Forging a partnership with a leading House Democrat, U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and his temporary ally propelled an effort to freeze federal defense spending to passage in the U.S. House last week – a goal Mulvaney failed to achieve last year on his own.
Congressman Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat behind sweeping and controversial Wall Street regulatory reforms, also proposed a similar plan last year without success.
But combining efforts this year, Mulvaney and Frank saw their amendment to freeze next year’s base defense spending at $518 billion, preventing a $1.1 billion increase, pass the House on Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
In a joint letter to their colleagues, Mulvaney and Frank said “when we are discussing cutting even the most basic social safety net programs, we think increasing the defense base budget makes all our exhortations about the deficit ring hollow.”
The vote was 247-167 with support from 89 Republicans and 158 Democrats. Voting in opposition to the bill were 145 Republicans and 21 Democrats.
The $606 billion defense budget also includes $87.7 billion in spending for the Afghanistan war and other overseas operations, Reuters reported.
The amendment also leaves defense spending at $2 billion more than what President Barack Obama and military leaders requested, Mulvaney said.
If enacted, Mulvaney and Frank’s plan will allow generals to find the savings while shielding from cuts military pay and health benefits, and spending for overseas operations.
Before any spending plan takes effect, both the House and Senate must find common ground. The entire defense budget may also face a presidential veto for exceeding budget caps put in place last year, Reuters reported.
Before the vote, Mulvaney said on the House floor that the $1.1 billion reduction in proposed spending wasn’t really a cut, but rather a reduction in the new spending the Republican-led House appropriations committee proposed.
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts (Bloomberg)
“Sensible people would have voted for both,” said Frank, who will retire this year after 32 years in the House, during a phone interview Thursday with The Herald.
But politics interfered, he said, leading few to cross the aisle.
In terms of the dollar amount the success was “not very big,” Mulvaney told The Herald on Thursday, but “from a symbolic standpoint … it was very, very important and a tremendous success to send the message that everything is on the table.”
“We wouldn’t be doing our job” if they didn’t examine all programs, including defense – a controversial topic when it comes to discussing cuts, he said.
Frank also sees more room for significant cuts in defense, but acknowledged the political difficulty of getting them.
“We both would have liked to do more (than the $1.1 billion). … Frankly, we weren’t even sure we could get that,” Frank said.
All of South Carolina’s representatives supported the amendment except Rep. Joe Wilson, a West Columbia Republican who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District and serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
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In light of the nation’s spending and deficits, Mulvaney and Frank’s amendment is akin to “plugging holes in the Titanic with bubble gum,” said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political science professor.
“To the degree that this is striving toward something larger, something bipartisan, and something positive then it’s good,” he said.
Frank and Mulvaney agree that their collaboration is “a good model” for working across the aisle and may come in handy in coming months as Congress faces the looming challenge of finding significant ways to reduce spending or brace for the first round of $110 billion automatic, across-the-board budget cuts starting in January unless Congress acts.
The reductions are part of $1.2 trillion over 10 years required by law after a super committee of House and Senate leaders failed last fall to draft a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling by that much.
Frank said he hopes similar collaborations – even among leaders who usually disagree – can help Congress find “sensible” cuts to avoid the automatic ones.
“Mick and I, we differ on a whole lot of things – each one of us wishes the other one wasn’t in Congress,” Frank said pointedly. “But it’s important to be able to disagree and agree,” he said. “That’s one reason why you don’t make the disagreements personal, you don’t get angry and nasty because then you can work together when you do agree.”
Of their collaboration, Mulvaney recalls hearing, “It’s so nice to see that compromise.” But Mulvaney added “That word means different things to different people.”
In working together, neither he nor Frank compromised on their principles to reach an agreement, he said.
The contrast was clear in their ideas for addressing the deficit.
“There has to be even deeper cuts in the military as well in other places, and there has to be some tax increases,” Frank said.
Mulvaney said he believes there’s a “real strong possibility that we’ll raise taxes,” though it won’t be with his help: “That’s where Barney and I obviously disagree.”