McConnell, Collins on collision course with Democrats over spending parity

Senate Republicans are on a collision course with Democrats who are insisting that nondefense spending programs receive equal treatment with defense programs. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) says he won’t accept Democrats’ demand to give nondefense programs the same increases — dollar for dollar — as defense programs, which he said should be considered...

McConnell, Collins on collision course with Democrats over spending parity

Senate Republicans are on a collision course with Democrats who are insisting that nondefense spending programs receive equal treatment with defense programs.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) says he won’t accept Democrats’ demand to give nondefense programs the same increases — dollar for dollar — as defense programs, which he said should be considered a much higher priority.

“I can’t accept that at all,” McConnell said last week of dollar-for-dollar parity between defense and nondefense spending increases.

“We have two major competitors, the Russians and the Chinese. We have the Iranians and we have their proxies. This is the most dangerous time since the Berlin Wall came down, and the defense spending needs to reflect the needs of our country, which clearly argues against having an arbitrary line that doesn’t spend more on defense than domestic.

“So I certainly do disagree with that, and we’re going to have a vigorous discussion about it,” he said.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, is siding with McConnell.

“Given how underfunded defense is and the global threats we face, I don’t think parity can be achieved,” she said.

McConnell and Collins are pushing back on Democratic demands for parity after Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) insisted that nondefense and defense programs be increased in tandem.

“For me the word of the day, today and every day until we pass our funding bills, is going to be 'parity.' By that I mean that when my Republican colleagues insist that despite the Fiscal Responsibility Act we need to boost spending in national security, I will also insist the boost to defense spending be matched with a similar increase to investments here at home,” Murray said earlier this month.

The Democratic leader of the Appropriations Committee acknowledged “this year will be tough from a resource perspective” but urged “bipartisan cooperation” to get the bills passed by the end of the year.

Other Democrats are rallying behind Murray’s call to increase nondefense programs as much as national security priorities.

“Agreement on parity has been part of keeping Congress functional for years now,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a prominent progressive.

“With supplemental budgets and various accounting complications, the military budget has often done better than the nonmilitary budget,” she said.

Democrats point out that the $95 billion national security supplemental spending package that President Biden signed into law last month included a hefty new chunk of defense spending.

Warren scoffed at the idea being pushed by some Republicans that defense spending is more vital to the nation’s interest than social programs.

“It is essential that we keep our roads and bridges in good repair. It is essential that our children have access to health care. It is essential that we make this country run. America has underinvested in our basic infrastructure for decades now, and we pay that price every day when it takes longer to get to work, when goods and services can’t make it where they belong,” she said.

“The idea that only some kinds of spending are essential is just fundamentally wrong,” she said.

But Murray’s call for increasing defense and nondefense priorities in step with each other is falling flat with Republicans.

“That’s B.S.,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is running to replace McConnell as Senate GOP leader at the end of the year.

“We just appropriated $95 billion for what is essentially to national defense,” he said, referring to the recently enacted defense supplemental spending package.

“This idea that you’re going to continue to rack up more and more debt for more domestic spending at a time when the threats are as grave and as serious as now is just ridiculous. It’s going to be a big fight,” Cornyn said.

He predicted that Democratic demands for parity between defense and nondefense spending increases are going to be “a real problem.”

Democrats argue that funding for some vital national security programs, such as those under the Department of Homeland Security and funding for the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, comes from the nondefense side of the ledger.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee were largely on the same page last year when it came to passing the annual appropriations bills.

That’s because they agreed a year ago to follow the top-line spending targets set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which essentially froze nondefense spending while increasing defense spending by 3.3 percent.

The 12 annual appropriations bills passed out of the Senate committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, and the most controversial appropriations bill funding the Department of Homeland Security only lost a handful of votes.

Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, nondefense and defense spending levels are both due for a 1 percent increase for fiscal 2025.

But Republicans, including McConnell, and some Democrats, such as Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), are signaling that a 1 percent defense spending increase will not be enough to keep pace with threats from Russia, China and Iran.

“On the defense side, a 1 percent increase is just not adequate for the conditions we’re dealing with,” Tester, the chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, told The Hill on Thursday.

Collins said the Democrats’ demands will likely make it tougher to pass the spending bills for fiscal 2025.

“I hope that they will not insist upon that because it would disrupt the bipartisan nature of the bills that we’ve been able to do so far,” she said.

Senate appropriators are also facing a conflict with the new chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who on Thursday announced spending targets that he said would amount to a 6 percent cut in nondefense programs and a 1 percent increase for defense.

Murray released a statement criticizing the House Republican spending goals for undercutting the level then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed to with Biden last year for nondefense programs.

“As we write our bills in the Senate, we will include the full resources that House Republicans and the president agreed to last year. To do anything less would mean devastating cuts that would hurt families and set our country back. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of last year, which only got us months of chaos and delay,” she warned.