The Senate appears to be divided by party lines on support for a Democratic amendment to the 2017 defense authorization bill that would match a proposed $18 billion boost to the defense with a complimentary one for nondefense.

The second degree amendment, offered by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), would make targeted increases to areas seen by Democrats as domestic priorities. The measure makes changes in an amendment offered by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would a separate $18 billion in defense spending to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

CAPITOLThe Reed-Mikulski amendment essentially sets up a quid pro quo: Democrats will have to approve McCain’s defense funding increase in order to reap more money for nondefense, but if Senate Republicans strike down the minority’s alternative, it will have a difficult time garnering support for the SASC chairman’s amendment.

Some of the added funding in the Reed-Mikulski amendment would help augment national security spending not covered by the NDAA, including: $2 billion to address government-wide cybersecurity issues, $1.9 billion in nondefense spending to support the counter-ISIS fight and $1.4 for the other security organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security and FBI.

Other spending would address the opioid crisis, infrastructure needs, wildfire relief and Zika virus prevention and treatment.

McCain’s amendment, meanwhile, would add about $18 billion in wartime funds for service chiefs’ unfunded priorities, including additional aircraft, ships, munitions and vehicle upgrades (Defense Daily, May 26).

The SASC chairman on Tuesday said he hoped to end debate on both amendments by Wednesday, but at press time discussion was ongoing, with votes likely Thursday.

Although McCain supports funding hikes for agencies like DHS, the Coast Guard and FBI that are not covered in the defense authorization bill, he said Wednesday that there was no national security justification for adding money to a defense bill for infrastructure or health-related items.

He also urged his colleagues to approve his amendment despite the outcome on the Reed-Mikulski measure.

“Voting no would be a vote in favor of cutting more soldiers and marines at a time where the operational requirements for our nation’s land forces in the Middle East, Europe and Asia are growing,” he said. “Voting no would be a vote in favor of continuing to shrink the number of aircraft that are available to the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps at a time where they are already too small to perform their current missions and are forced to cannibalize their own fleets to keep our nations pilots flying at far higher risk. Voting no would be a vote in favor of letting arbitrary budget caps set the timeline for our mission in Afghanistan instead of giving our troops and our Afghan partners a fighting chance at victory.”

Reed, the highest ranking Democrat on the SASC, characterized the spending in his amendment as ultimately beneficial for broader national security.

“True national security involves more than just the activities of DoD, and so non-DoD departments and agencies should also receive relief from the budget caps,” he said in a Wednesday morning speech. “The Pentagon cannot meet the complex set of national security challenges we face without the help of other government departments and agencies—including State, Justice, and Homeland Security and other civilian departments and agencies that contribute to our national security.”

Mikulski, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D- Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also stated they would support an increase to defense only if parity was achieved in other nondiscretionary spending.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) retorted that defense is the nation’s top priority and should be increased without regard for parts of the budget.