- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Democrats overcame criticism from their left wing and pushed a new budget deal through committee Wednesday that would increase spending by $350 billion over what the law currently allows.

Some progressive lawmakers complained that the Pentagon was getting too much money, but Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said Democrats couldn’t let those quibbles derail them as they try to advance their ante for the 2020 and 2021 spending battles.

His plan passed on a 19-17 vote, and could now go to the House floor as soon as next week, giving Democrats an alternative to full budget proposals by President Trump and the GOP-led Senate Budget Committee, which passed its own plan last week.

Mr. Yarmuth said he agreed with the spirit of some of the liberals’ complaints, but he had to balance those against more moderate members of the Democratic Caucus.

“The numbers that we put in this bill were chosen after several months of consultation with our entire caucus and a broad range of parties, and in my opinion provide the best, most responsible path forward to ensure that we meet our obligations to this Congress and the American people,” the Kentucky Democrat said.

For 2020 the proposal calls for up to $733 billion in discretionary defense spending. That’s a $17 billion boost from 2019, but still $17 billion less than what Mr. Trump wants and what the Senate GOP plan allows for.

Mr. Yarmuth’s plan also sets base discretionary spending on non-defense programs for 2020 at $631 billion - a $34 billion boost from the current year.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who voted against the final plan, offered an amendment to freeze defense spending at 2019 levels. The committee voted it down.

“We cannot be against endless wars and then fund those wars,” Mr. Khanna said. “Republicans and Democrats are sick and weary of these interventions, and we need to stop funding them.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, said she was happy Democrats didn’t adopt Mr. Trump’s proposed cuts to domestic programs. But she said she was disappointed the Pentagon was getting an increase too.

“We all believe that it’s our solemn duty to provide for the nation’s security,” Ms. Lee said. “I also believe it’s in our national security interest[s] and is in fact our duty as stewards of taxpayer dollars to question and challenge the astronomical growth in Pentagon spending over the past decade.”

While domestic spending does see a bigger short-term boost in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, both defense and non-defense would each see an additional $180 billion or so over the current projected spending caps for 2020 and 2021.

That’s a shift from the last two-year deal, which gave a slightly higher boost to defense.

Liberals acknowledged they’re living under divided government, but said they should flex their new House majority and build up domestic spending now.

“I know any spending deal has to be negotiated in divided government with a Republican Senate and that limits our leverage, but I still think we can do better,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat, who voted no. “We can put forward an opening that truly prioritizes the health and the happiness of our communities and not our foreign wars.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar said she wanted to see the committee slash a special fund that pays for ongoing war on terror operations. Mr. Yarmuth’s plan allows $69 billion for it, which is far less than Mr. Trump wants but still unpalatable for some Democrats.

Ms. Omar, Minnesota Democrat, called the money, known in spending circles as Overseas Contingency Operations, a slush fund for the Pentagon.

She joined Mr. Khanna and Ms. Jayapal in voting against Mr. Yarmuth’s plan. All 14 Republicans on the panel also voted against it.

“It is missing bipartisan input. It is missing White House involvement. And it is missing offsets,” said Rep. Steve Womack, the panel’s top Republican. “That’s Washington-speak for, ‘they don’t have a way to pay for this plan.’”

The committee rejected several GOP amendments that included efforts to decrease the cap level for non-defense and require offsets for the increases in spending.

Most Democrats stuck with Mr. Yarmuth, saying approving his plan now would set benchmark spending levels so the House Appropriations Committee can start writing next year’s spending bills.

“I would like to see a larger increase in non-defense spending, but I also realize that there’s a lot better chance of that happening winning the Senate and winning the White House,” Rep. Brendan Boyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, told The Washington Times. “So it is also the art of what’s possible at this moment.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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