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Democratic hawks want to go bigger than Biden on defense spending

John M. Donnelly, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee’s move to authorize significantly more defense spending next year than President Joe Biden wants demonstrates that there’s still a sizable number of Democratic hawks in the Senate willing to challenge the party’s dovish progressive wing.

At the committee’s markup this week of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, Oklahoma’s James M. Inhofe, the ranking Republican, offered an amendment to authorize $25 billion more than Biden requested (and $37 billion more than what was appropriated for the current fiscal year), aides said.

The committee has made little information about the closed markup public. But aides disclosed Friday that a separate vote was held on the total amount of funding, and they also revealed the final tally: 25-1.

That vote, with only Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren objecting, sends a powerful message in the ongoing debate over how to allocate the government’s discretionary budget, between defense and nondefense spending. It also indicates that the loud voices on the Democratic Party’s left, who complained that the 1.6% defense budget increase proposed by Biden was too large, will face a struggle in their own party.

The Armed Services Committee bill would authorize $777.9 billion for national defense programs in fiscal 2022 at the Pentagon and other departments, 5% more than the current level. The bill would authorize $740.3 billion specifically for the Defense Department, although appropriators would make the final call on how much of the money is delivered.

 

The Armed Services Committee disclosed only one vote tally from its closed proceedings, the 23-3 vote on final approval, but did not say how individual lawmakers voted.

But congressional aides said that when it came time to vote on final approval of the bill, Warren again voted “no.” So, too, did Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Cotton and Hawley were concerned about a provision that would require women for the first time to register for the draft.

Inhofe’s amendment ratified what senators on the panel had decided long before Wednesday. Otherwise, the committee would not have been ready to allocate the additional billions for specific defense programs. Much of the boost went toward programs that top generals and admirals had identified as priorities that did not make the president’s budget request.

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