Congress proposes defense budget $37 billion higher than Trump’s

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are planning to propose a defense budget of $640 billion for 2018, a $37 billion increase over the Trump administration’s $603 billion request.

House Armed Services chairman Mac Thornberry told reporters Thursday he plans to set the topline of the House’s annual defense authorization bill to $640 billion, along with a $65 billion war budget. And Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain also plans to set his committee’s bill at $640 billion, two sources familiar with his plans told CNN.

The increase for the defense authorization bill — a must-pass piece of legislation that sets Pentagon policy and authorizes spending levels — underscores the frustration of defense hawks like McCain and Thornberry with President Donald Trump’s defense budget after he promised a massive rebuilding of the military.

The armed services chairmen have both been critical of the Trump budget request, which was $52 billion above the budget caps but only $18 billion more than what the Obama administration had proposed for 2018.

“What came up here at $603 billion was the Obama request, plus 3%,” Thornberry said. “It’s the Obama budget request because there wasn’t anybody at DoD to write a Trump budget request.”

Both the House and Senate armed services panels are set to mark up their defense authorization bills next week.

But the plan for a budget that tops $705 billion with war funding thrown in — almost $100 billion higher than what passed for 2017 — faces major obstacles on Capitol Hill.

Democrats were already opposed to the Trump defense budget request because it was paired with an equal cut to domestic spending, and they’re unlikely to agree to an even higher amount for the military.

Plus some fiscal hawks in the House are wary of spending even more on defense. The House Budget Committee is currently considering proposing a $621 billion defense budget as a compromise, and Thornberry said Thursday there was still a chance his bill could change if the budget committee strikes a final deal, as long as it provides budget stability for the military that extends beyond the current year.

House appropriators are also planning an increase to the defense budget — but they’re doing so through a major boost to the Pentagon’s war budget, known as “overseas contingency operations” spending.

The House appropriations defense subcommittee is planning to mark up its 2018 defense spending bill next week, with $549 billion in base spending and $91 billion in war funding, according to two sources familiar with the panel’s plans. That would match the defense appropriations bill at the $549 billion defense spending cap under the Budget Control Act.

The rationale for moving money into the war budget is that it’s exempt from spending caps, which if violated would trigger an across-the-board cut to the Pentagon budget, known as sequestration. It’s a tactic Congress has frequently used in the past in order to boost both defense and domestic spending.

The Pentagon budget makes up about 95% of the overall Trump administration defense budget request of $603 billion, which also includes nuclear spending in the Department of Energy and military construction.

The extra funding in the defense bills lets Congress fund much of the $31 billion that the military services requested on their so-called “wish lists,” or unfunded requirements.

Thornberry said that his bill would authorize more service members in the Army, Navy and Air Force. It also authorizes a full pay raise of 2.4%, higher than the 2.1% proposed by the Pentagon, and boosts funding to missile defense, which was cut by more than $300 million in the Trump budget.

Republicans Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who chair the seapower subcommittees, said the defense bills would authorize building more ships than the nine the Pentagon proposed for 2018.

“It’ll be well north of that,” Wittman said.