WASHINGTON - GOP defense hawks are pressing to find ways to boost the Pentagon's bottom line as the annual budget debate cranks up on Capitol Hill, with tension between defense hawks and budget hard-liners already making it hard for Republican leaders to assemble a majority behind their soon-to-be-revealed budget blueprints.
Even before top Republicans unveil budget plans with promises to balance the budget within a decade and rein in major programs such as food stamps and Medicare, efforts were underway to ease automatic budget cuts set to slam the military.
The chairmen of the House and Senate budget panels plan to release their budget plans this week - the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday.
The nonbinding measure called a budget resolution sets broad parameters on taxes and spending; it requires follow-up legislation later this year to implement its balanced-budget goals, and Republicans are unlikely to take on that task as long as President Obama occupies the Oval Office.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R., Ga.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) plan to produce blueprints that would balance the budget within 10 years - without raising taxes.
Instead, they will propose major spending cuts to programs such as Medicare, health-care subsidies, food stamps, and the Medicaid program for the poor and elderly to produce a budget that's balanced. Such cuts, if actually implemented later, would likely slash spending by $5 trillion or so over the coming decade from budgets that are presently on track to spend almost $50 trillion over that time frame.
To the dismay of defense hawks, however, they can't really use Congress' arcane budget process to repeal automatic Pentagon cuts that will strip $54 billion from core Pentagon programs based on limits set under a hard-fought 2011 budget deal. Nor can they match Obama's proposal to add $38 billion to the Pentagon's budget next year without exposing the entire budget to a parliamentary challenge by Democrats.
In the House, 70 Republicans have signed a letter written by Rep. Mike Turner (R., Ohio) pledging their "unwavering support" for Obama's $561 billion defense request instead of the $523 billion amount mandated under the 2011 budget deal. That law requires automatic spending cuts for years because of the failure of Congress to produce follow-up deficit cuts. If they line up against Price's budget plan as a bloc, it will be impossible to pass it.
A bipartisan Senate group hopes to develop a package of alternative cuts and, perhaps, new revenues to replace the forced cuts to the Pentagon and nondefense programs. It is hoping to replicate a 2013 budget pact that partially eased the automatic cuts for the 2014-15 budget years.