A group of Senate Republican defense hawks are holding up passage of legislation to raise the debt ceiling in protest of a 1-percent, across-the-board spending cut that would go into effect if Congress doesn’t pass its spending bills on time, and to pressure Senate leaders to agree to move a funding measure for the Ukraine war later this year.
Only a few hours after the debt limit deal crafted by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) passed the House with more than 300 votes, defense-minded Republican senators are threatening to hold up the bill to protect the Pentagon.
A Republican senator familiar with floor discussions said there are “people who are willing” to hold up the bill unless leaders commit to moving a defense supplemental later this year.
But the source added there’s “a pathway to getting this done by midnight.”
The ink on the agreement is barely dry, but some GOP senators are already looking for a way to get around the cap on defense spending — which falls well short of what they think is needed — by moving a supplemental spending bill to provide more military aid to Ukraine.
“We are exchanging language, and I certainly hope that we can get there with a commitment to bring the appropriations bills to the Senate floor, so that we’re never in a situation where we trigger the automatic 1-percent, across-the-board, indiscriminate cut,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
The debt limit bill would implement an across-the-board, 1-percent cut on discretionary spending if Congress fails to pass the annual spending bills by the end of the calendar year, which some Republicans worry that Democrats could use as leverage in future negotiations since many social welfare programs are funded by mandatory spending.
And while the defense budget will otherwise be capped below the rate of inflation, Collins said she and her allies also want Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to promise to move a defense supplemental spending package to ensure continued military support for Ukraine.
“The second part would be a commitment for a defense supplemental, an emergency defense supplemental,” she said.
Collins said she wants Schumer to make these commitments in a “colloquy on the floor or a statement on the floor.”
Republican senators including Collins and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) took to the Senate floor Thursday to vent their concerns about the defense spending caps in the bill.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday called the defense caps the “worst part of the deal.”
Graham fumed that there’s “not a penny in this bill to help Ukraine defeat Putin.”
He noted that Ukrainian forces are about to launch an offensive to push back Russian troops and declared “we need to send a clear message to Putin that when it comes to your invasion of Ukraine, we’re going to support the Ukrainians to ensure your loss.”
“If we don’t do that, then we’re going to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory,” Graham said.
Cotton said under the spending caps negotiated by Biden and McCarthy, the defense budget will grow only half as fast as the rate of inflation, “causing even more real cuts to defense.”
He also argued the 1-percent cut to penalize lawmakers for not passing spending bills on time “means defense spending will go down if the sequester kicks in.”
“If the sequester takes effect, Democrats will get more welfare spending, while defense gets cut,” he warned.
“This bill poses a mortal risk to our national security by cutting our defense budget, which I cannot support as grave dangers gather on the horizon,” Cotton declared.