The Big Winner in the House GOP Budget? The Pentagon

Defense Department file photo

This story has been updated. 

There are plenty of ways Republicans could lose this year's massive intraparty fight over the budget. But so far there is at least one big winner – the Pentagon.

The fiscal 2016 spending blueprint unveiled by the House GOP Tuesday shifts money around to give a big cash boost to the military, even as the party's fiscal hawks and defense hawks are already drawing battle lines. Republicans will need majorities in both chambers to pass a budget this year, and with just 54 Republicans in the Senate, the math is tight and the obstacles to a deal are huge.

New House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price will present the budget for fiscal 2016 to his fellow Republicans in a closed-door conference Tuesday morning that will look familiar to those in the room. Like other recent GOP blueprints, it block-grants Medicaid, calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and balances the government's checkbook within 10 years.

But with another round of sequestration set to hit later this year, hawks are calling for additional funds to bolster the nation's defenses, while conservatives are raising the alarm over changes to the Budget Control Act caps that could increase the nation's deficit.

Price, a close ally of former Chairman Paul Ryan, borrowed many ideas from his predecessor. But he also moved to bolster funding for the Pentagon. Whether his solution will be enough for defense hawks without causing an uproar among fiscally minded conservatives is another question.

The House Republican budget authored by Price leaves in place the sequestration cuts set to hit defense and nondefense spending in fiscal 2016, which begins in September, but it adds additional money in Overseas Contingency Operations accounts—technically considered emergency funding—to bring total defense spending to $613 billion, which is more than President Obama requested for the year.

But the OCO funding plan may not be enough for defense hawks. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of several Republicans who has said he would oppose a budget if it fails to increase funding for defense over the sequestration caps, dismissed Price's OCO option—then just a theoretical possibility—on Monday evening. "I don't like it because OCO is a gimmick," McCain told reporters.

Fiscal conservatives aren't fond of the OCO plan either, raising the question of whether this is a solution that satisfies no one. "That is preposterous," Taxpayers for Common Sense CEO Steve Ellis said of the OCO funding plan. "That's more than we had in OCO a few years ago and is just a blatant attempt to end-run the budget caps."

Over the next nine years, the House Republican budget would maintain the current sequestration caps overall, but reduce them for defense while increasing the spending limits for nondefense spending. Overall, the plan would increase spending by $387 billion over the next 10 years.

The budget does borrow an idea from McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham: creating a reserve account through which Congress can funnel additional funds to bolster the nation's defenses. The "Defense Readiness and Modernization Fund" would, however, be useless in the context of a budget resolution. To spend beyond the caps set under the Budget Control Act, Congress will have to pass a separate law, and get the president's signature. Price's gambit would allow congressional appropriators to spend over those caps once such a law is enacted.

The budget calls for the Affordable Care Act to be repealed via reconciliation, the complex procedural move that could allow Republicans in the House and Senate to make large-scale changes to federal law with simple majority votes this year. The budget also includes non-specific language asking each committee to do what it wants to reduce the deficit by anywhere from $15 million to $1 billion apiece over 10 years by July 15.

Although members have discussed using reconciliation to overturn the Affordable Care Act and/or defund President Obama's executive action on immigration, Republican leaders have been all but silent about how and when they will use it.

But the budget outline does provide some hints, including stating that it "repeals Obamacare in its entirety—including all of the tax increase, regulations, subsidies, and mandates." Given that a budget resolution is not a law signed by the president and thus cannot repeal ACA on its own, repeal would have to be accomplished in reconciliation or in a separate law.

Like Ryan's budget, the new House GOP budget would replace ACA with "patient-centered health reform," although it isn't very specific about what that would entail. It would also combine Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, with states receiving "flexibility funds" that would give them more freedom over the program, similar to the block-grant proposals of the past.

The budget document also encourages Congress to reduce federal regulations, cut down on "wasteful bureaucratic interference" in the energy sector, and increase oversight of the Veterans Affairs Department and of military compensation and retirement—any of which could also be included in reconciliation language.

Dylan Scott contributed to this article.

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