This story was updated on Friday, June 2 at 9:54 AM.
WASHINGTON — Dissatisfied with the $886 billion military budget laid out in the debt ceiling bill, defense hawks are looking to channel additional funds to the Pentagon through supplemental spending packages.
Six Republican senators took to the floor on Thursday to demand an emergency defense spending bill after Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., floated the idea of attaching other Pentagon priorities to a Ukraine aid supplemental that Congress will likely need to take up later this year.
“The first problem of an inadequate defense budget could be addressed and remedied by having an emergency defense supplemental,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “This is what I would ask the [Biden] administration and my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to commit to because we know that this budget is not adequate to the global threats we face.”
Five other Republican defense hawks joined Collins on the floor: Roger Wicker of Mississippi – the Armed Services Committee ranking member – Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
Their remarks came hours before the Senate passed compromise legislation needed to avoid a potential U.S. debt default by a 63-36 vote. The House passed the bipartisan bill 314-117 on Wednesday following weeks of negotiations between Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and President Joe Biden. If Congress had not raised the debt ceiling, the government would have had to suspend payments to troops, veterans and defense contractors.
The bill locks in Biden’s proposed fiscal 2024 defense budget, a 3.3% increase over this year, while cutting non-defense discretionary spending down to $704 billion. It would allow for 1% growth to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending the year after, for a military top line of $895 billion in FY25.
“This debt ceiling deal does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said ahead of the vote late Thursday. “A strong bipartisan majority of senators stands ready to receive and process emergency funding requests from the administration.”
While numerous Republican defense hawks in the House passed the compromise bill to avoid a catastrophic default, the senators seeking to surpass the military budget caps point out that the 3.3% growth falls below the rate of inflation. They regularly seek 3% to 5% annual defense budget growth above inflation.
“It’s basically a cut when you consider inflation,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Defense News.
But the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, argued Wednesday on the Senate floor that the U.S. already spends more on defense than the next 10 countries in the world combined and that “Pentagon spending keeps increasing” because of price gouging from defense contractors in addition to inflation.
Packing the Ukraine supplemental?
The Biden administration expects that it will run out of Ukraine aid authorities by the end of the fiscal year and intends to ask Congress for an additional supplemental spending package for Kyiv within the next few months. Reed floated putting other Pentagon spending priorities in that Ukraine bill.
“They’ve built this incredible mouse trap that we have to figure out,” said Reed, according to Punchbowl News and Politico. “I think with Ukraine, you’re going to have to have a supplemental. We might put some other stuff in, too.”
Additionally, Graham told reporters he’s “hoping” the Senate will use a forthcoming Ukraine supplemental “as an opportunity to repair the damage done by this budget deal.”
Collins also endorsed adding other Pentagon funding measures to the next Ukraine supplemental, telling Defense News it “would be one way to deal with the inadequate top line for the Department of Defense.”
Congress started using emergency spending in the early 2000s to help fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq outside of the base budget through an overseas contingency operations account. From 2013 to 2021, Congress routinely used OCO funds to circumvent the defense spending caps imposed by sequestration, even as non-defense spending remained subject to spending limits. This averaged about $119 billion per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Total defense spending for FY23 — which ends Sept. 30 — will come to $893 billion after accounting for $35.4 billion in emergency Ukraine aid. Total FY22 defense spending came to $794 billion after Congress allocated an additional $26 billion in Ukraine aid.
Meanwhile, House Republicans who voted for the compromise debt ceiling bill are preparing to begin marking up the defense authorization and appropriations bills under the $886 billion cap.
“We’ll make it work,” House defense appropriations Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., told Defense News on Wednesday before voting for the bill.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., also voted for the bill despite panning Biden’s defense budget request as too low. He had planned to mark up the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act in May but postponed the bill at the last minute following a request from Republican leaders engaged in the debt ceiling negotiations.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also voted for the debt ceiling compromise while deriding the defense spending cap, stating Thursday on the Senate floor that “we cannot neglect our fundamental obligation to address the nation’s most pressing national security challenges.”
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.