By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — US Senate defense hawks for the second time in four weeks — after years of warning about Pentagon budget instability — last week entered the ornate chamber and voted against legislation to give the military just that.
On the docket last Thursday afternoon was a massive omnibus government-funding bill that included $572 billion for the Defense Department — the Council for a Livable World calculated the actual DoD allotment at nearly $610 billion.
Together, the $487 billion base Pentagon appropriations bill and $85 billion war-funding measure included in the omnibus included nearly $100 billion in unclassified procurement dollars to buy new weapon systems. The bill allows the military to do things like enter into multi-year contracts and execute program plans.
For months, Senate Armed Services Committee members, especially Republicans, have warned what would happen if Congress merely passed a government-wide continuing resolution. Had that occurred, Pentagon officials would have legally been prohibited from performing those kinds of activities, which hawkish lawmakers warn would drive up costs in the long run.
Yet, a half-dozen GOP Armed Services Committee members — including the three most-senior Republicans — voted against the omnibus and its Pentagon-friendly parts. Many did the exact same thing on Dec. 19.
That marked the second time in a month when Senate GOP hawks voted against legislation supported by Pentagon leaders.
In late-December, 17 GOP Armed Services Committee and Appropriations Defense subcommittee members essentially voted to keep every penny of the remaining $450 billion in Pentagon sequester cuts in place.
At that time, the nearly 20 Republican defense committee members cast votes against a budget plan negotiated by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. It was Washington’s first bipartisan budget blueprint since 2009.
SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, and the panel’s other two top Republicans, John McCain, of Arizona, and Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, also voted against the bill.
Inhofe explained his vote as one against what the mammoth bill did not do.
“Today I voted no on the omnibus appropriations bill because it continues the disproportionate cuts that are decimating our national security,” he said in a statement. “Further, the agreement fails to fully restore the earned retirement benefits of our military men and women that were recklessly cut in last year’s budget deal.”
McCain said he is “pleased that this bill will prevent another government shutdown and hopefully signal to the American people that we can actually work together.”
But he said his vote was based on “serious concerns surrounding specific policy riders and spending provisions.”
“I am also seriously concerned about the process whereby we are passing a 1,582 page, $1.012 trillion spending bill that we received at 8:00 p.m. Monday night, giving us very limited time to carefully review or debate and no ability to amend,” McCain said in a statement. “The omnibus includes appropriations policy riders and pork barrel projects that should raise red flags for all of my colleagues.”
Also voting against the spending measure were GOP Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas.
The conservative firebrand Cruz, a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, explained his vote by pointing to bigger-picture issues.
The omnibus “does nothing to restore economic growth, stop Obamacare, or fix our spending problem,” Cruz said last week. “If anyone wants to know why the nation is in fiscal trouble, look no further than the massive omnibus bill being jammed through Congress.”