House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has signaled that he will not support an increase to the defense spending caps enacted in the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), diverging sharply from Senate Republicans who had strongly criticized it and sought to raise it, according to comments he made on Monday.
The FRA – a bill to raise the debt limit and avert a default in exchange for policy and spending concessions to conservatives – capped defense spending for the 2024 Fiscal Year at $886 billion and for the 2025 Fiscal Year at $895 billion, which Senate Republicans claimed was too low and ought to increase with the rate of inflation (i.e., 5%). McCarthy, however, told CNN that he would not back a separate bill to raise the defense spending cap, which was negotiated between McCarthy and President Joe Biden’s representatives.
“Think about it, $886 billion. You don’t think there’s waste,” McCarthy said on CNN on Monday, adding that “[t]hey failed the last five audits,” referring to the Department of Defense’s accounting audits, the last several of which have been unable to account for all its assets, estimated to be $3.5 trillion. “I consider myself a hawk, but I don’t want to waste money. So I think we’ve got to find efficiencies,” he said.
McCarthy’s comments come shortly after Senate Republicans criticized the caps in the bill, which with non-defense spending caps, seek to reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next decade. Among the most strident critics of McCarthy has been Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“Not a penny in this bill to help Ukraine defeat Putin,” Graham said while terming the bill “one of the most ill-conceived ideas for national defense I’ve seen since the 2011 sequestration,” referring to the Obama-era policy of automatic cuts to defense appropriations. He also said it was “a catastrophe for defense,” a “total disgust” and a “betrayal” in several tweets on Memorial Day, in one instance turning his critique on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Mitch was wrong in 2011 and he’s wrong now,” said Graham, with McConnell, for his part, saying that the defense spending caps were “the worst part of the deal.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, meanwhile, had called the caps “completely inadequate” and said that “a paper is being exchanged” to increase the caps. “The first problem of an inadequate defense budget could be addressed and remedied by an emergency defense supplemental,” said Collins, who is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, an idea that is precisely what McCarthy rejected on Monday.
An amendment to the FRA by Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, to raise the caps to $904 billion and $950 billion for 2024 and 2025, respectively, failed to pass by a vote of 49-48. Despite a majority in favor, it was not approved under special rules that required 60 votes to pass any amendments to the bill, which was passed on Thursday night.
Graham and Collins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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