Courtney: Absent spending cap deal, national and defense budgets up in air

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said he expects contention over Democratic-backed provisions included in the major spending package passed Wednesday by the House, such as requiring congressional approval for U.S. military action in Iran, to be worked out when congressional negotiators sit down later this summer to iron out a final budget deal.

The U.S. House voted 226 to 203 to pass a nearly $1 trillion spending bill that supports a $733 billion national defense budget, including a boost in submarine spending. No Republicans supported the package, which funds most of the federal government.

Courtney attributed the lopsided vote to Republicans' desire for a $750 billion defense budget, which the White House also supports, and lack of a larger agreement on federal spending. The Trump administration has indicated it would veto the House bill.

"The fact that we haven't worked out a spending cap deal has created a wedge that I think was driving most of that partisanship in the vote," Courtney, D-2nd District, said.

Congressional leaders and the Trump administration are in a debate over what the topline should be for defense and nondefense spending and raising the U.S. borrowing limit. If they can't come to a consensus on raising the caps put in place under the Budget Control Act of 2011, domestic spending would have to be cut by $55 billion and defense spending would be slashed by $71 billion in the new fiscal year that starts Oct 1.

"Right now, the spending cap deal is front and center," Courtney said. "The process will move quickly once that's all clearly laid out."

Absent a deal, the Trump administration would reportedly propose a short-term agreement to fund the government at current levels for another year, and increase the debt ceiling for one year, which, Courtney said, "is not going to fly."

In addition to the debate over spending, the bill passed by the House is peppered with amendments from Democrats intended to place checks on this president and future administrations, which are "points of contention" for Republicans, Courtney said. One example is a provision to limit the Pentagon's authority to transfer funding for President Donald Trump's proposed wall along the southern border.

"My feeling is that those are going to get worked out in the conference process," Courtney said, referring to the process in which members of Senate and House sit down to negotiate a final spending plan.

Courtney highlighted an amendment he introduced to reverse an order issued last year by then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that restricts the ability of service members with more than 16 years of service from transferring their G.I. Bill education benefits to eligible dependents. He said this benefit is a key recruitment and retention tool. Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the original G.I. bill.


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