By James Rosen — McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., gained a major legislative victory Wednesday as the House passed his measure to reduce military spending by $3.5 billion.
Mulvaney’s legislation, offered as an amendment to the 2014 defense appropriations bill, split the South Carolina House delegation, with fellow Republican Reps. Joe Wilson and Tom Rice voting against it and GOP Reps. Trey Gowdy, Jeff Duncan and Mark Sanford backing it along with Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn.
The House voted 215-206 for the Mulvaney amendment, with 38 Republicans and 177 Democrats supporting it. A total of 188 Republicans voted against the measure, joined by 18 Democrats.
“Taxpayers owe Rep. Mulvaney and his bipartisan allies a debt of gratitude for their leadership in reigning in unnecessary spending,” Steve Ellis, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense anti-spending group, told McClatchy.
After its narrow victory, Mulvaney’s amendment endured several hours of suspense as some of the majority of Republican lawmakers who’d opposed it tried to force a parliamentary procedure called a “motion to reconsider.”
That motion would have allowed a second vote on the Mulvaney cuts, but it failed to gain enough support to move forward.
Taxpayers for Common Sense and other fiscally conservative organizations sent emails to lawmakers, warning them not to overturn Mulvaney’s amendment, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a House Democratic leader from Maryland.
The House later voted 315-109 to pass a $594 billion bill to fund the Pentagon for the 2014 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. All seven House members from South Carolina supported the larger measure.
The state’s seven representatives also voted for an amendment to limit the government’s domestic surveillance programs, but that measure was defeated by a 217-205 vote that split Republicans and Democrats alike in nearly equal measure.
Mulvaney’s cuts came from a Pentagon account called “Overseas Contingency Operations,” which in recent years has been used mainly to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican in his second term as the 5th Congressional District representative, said the Defense Department asked Congress to provide $80 billion for war funding, as part of a $594 billion bill to fund the Pentagon for the 2014 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
The House Appropriations bill added $5 billion to the Pentagon’s request, which Mulvaney said would have gone mainly to fund things unrelated to combat.
“The war budget has been used for years as a slush fund of sorts to get around budget limits,” Mulvaney told McClatchy late Wednesday. “This year, that slush fund was about $5 billion. We sought to simply get rid of the money in the war budget that was not war-related.”
Mulvaney initially pushed a $5 billion cut, but he compromised at $3.5 billion after the Army National Guard pressured lawmakers by saying its operations would be disproportionately hurt by the higher spending reductions.
“I did it because I think it was a sham and an accounting trick,” Mulvaney said.
Wilson, a seventh-term Republican from Springdale, and Rice, a Myrtle Beach Republican in his first year, did not respond to questions asking why they voted against Mulvaney’s amendment.
Mulvaney, who defeated then-House Budget Committee chairman and York Democrat John Spratt in the November 2010 elections that gave Republicans control of the House, acknowledged that his amendment could still be eliminated from the final defense spending bill that emerges from Congress.
“There’s plenty of time for recriminations,” Mulvaney quipped.
The Senate Armed Services Committee last month approved a $625 billion military appropriations measure. While that bill provides the Pentagon $31 billion than the House measure, the war-funding portion in the Overseas Contingency Account is $80.7 billion, slightly less than the amount in the House bill even after Mulvaney’s cuts.