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Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the Armed Services Committee chair, took the unprecedented step of voting against the NDAA package coming out of his own panel

Hawks push for more Pentagon money, but will it happen? And when?

Senate defense hawks in both parties want a big boost in Pentagon spending for next year, citing new and constantly evolving threats from U.S. adversaries.

Yet getting this done amid a battle for control of the Senate and White House — as well as a looming spending fight with endangered House Republicans — may prove too much to overcome this summer. A deal may be possible in the lame-duck session, although that all depends on who wins on Nov. 5.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week approved a $25 billion increase to the Pentagon’s topline as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act for FY2025. The committee voted 22-3 to send the bill to the Senate floor.

But that final tally, while a win for defense hawks, belied the reality on Capitol Hill as this year’s spending wars are intensifying. The NDAA is an authorization bill only, so it all comes down to what the Senate Appropriations Committee approves. There’s no deal right now on how much the federal government should spend next year, and it’s not clear if and when that will happen.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the Armed Services Committee chair, took the unprecedented step of voting against the NDAA package coming out of his own panel. While Reed supports a defense spending hike, he opposed the legislation because it would bust the spending caps agreed to under the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act. This would trigger sequestration for the Pentagon, Reed warned.

“There are reasons to increase investment in defense,” Reed told us. “But it would’ve been a whole different story if we did not have the Fiscal Responsibility Act.”

For their part, House Republicans are seeking steep cuts to domestic spending while calling for a $9 billion Pentagon boost, as well as more money for border security and the VA.

Speaker Mike Johnson and House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) won’t honor the “side deals” negotiated by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden as part of the FRA. Those side deals included billions of dollars that went to spending bills.

Defense hikes paired with cuts to social programs won’t fly with the White House or Hill Democrats.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), an Armed Services Committee member and a senior appropriator, told us that while there’s a real need for more defense spending, it shouldn’t “come at the expense of further cuts on the domestic side of the budget.” Shaheen voted against the proposed $25 billion boost, although she backed the overall NDAA package, which sets defense policy.

There’s also clear skepticism among appropriators in both parties that anything can get done before Election Day.

“My hope is that we’ll be able to do a [defense] increase that will help address very real needs,” said Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican appropriator. “It’s going to be a challenging situation not only between the parties, but between the chambers.”

We’ll note that Collins and Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) don’t yet have an agreement for the FY2025 spending topline ​​or know when they’ll get one.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, orchestrated the proposed $25 billion Pentagon increase. Wicker told us that despite the headwinds, he’s encouraged by his conversations so far with appropriators.

Wicker noted that the FRA caps were enacted before Iran, North Korea, China and Russia were all working together to undermine the West and U.S. security.

“We need to do what we have to do to make America strong and to preserve the peace,” Wicker told us. “So we need to make that decision collectively, have a national conversation about it, and after that, the technicalities will fall into place.”

Other Republicans said they’d support whatever it takes to meet the Pentagon increase including waiving spending caps. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s running for GOP leader, called for a “reset” of the way Congress thinks about defense spending. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, also running for leader, said appropriators should find a way to meet the Armed Services Committee’s goal.

Of course, even among Republicans, there’s far from a consensus on what to do about Pentagon spending. And progressives, who have long opposed defense funding hikes, see the GOP as violating the budget deal they demanded as a condition for raising the debt limit in 2023.

“It’s hard enough to hold things together in this Congress. But time after time, the Republicans cut a deal — that was very painful for Democrats — and then turn around… and back out,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told us. “There comes a time when Democrats smarten up and say the House Republicans are not people you can cut a deal with. Because they will never stick to it.”

— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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