Washington – Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy split this week on whether to boost military spending by $18 billion – allowing the Pentagon to increase its purchase of Connecticut-made weaponry – without raising the amount of money spent on domestic programs as well.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was one of 12 Senate Democrats who on Thursday voted for an amendment to a massive defense authorization bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have increased the Pentagon’s spending by $18 billion and boosted by 36 the number of Sikorsky-made helicopters the Army could buy next year.
The money also would have paid for a slight increase in military pay and boosted other weapons programs. It would have included an extra $1.5 billion to purchase 11 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, whose engines are made by Pratt & Whitney.
But most Democrats, including Murphy, insisted that domestic programs be increased by the same amount of money. So Murphy voted against the amendment, helping to defeat it on a 56-42 vote, because 60 votes were needed for approval.
“I support additional funding for the Department of Defense, but we can’t ignore other looming crises, like our state’s heroin epidemic, our crumbling roads and bridges, and the growing Zika epidemic,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile Blumenthal voted for McCain’s amendment, saying the extra defense money would be “critically important to national defense and Connecticut jobs.”
“This is a core priority for me,” Blumenthal said.
He said he supported increasing federal spending to combat the Zika virus “and other important goals,” but McCain’s amendment was too important to Connecticut’s manufacturing base to reject, even if it would not increase domestic spending.
Meanwhile, McCain blasted fellow senators, like Murphy, who voted against his amendment.
“(Thursday’s) vote put the lives of our men and women in uniform at greater risk,” he said. “Our senior military commanders have been increasingly dire in their warnings about the grave impact of arbitrary budget cuts on our military and our national security. Those that chose to ignore those warnings will have to answer for the consequences.”
Murphy said he is “confident” that in the end there will be a compromise that will dramatically increase funding for defense and non-defense priorities.
But a rival amendment sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would have done that failed by an even larger margin, 43-52, though it had the support of Blumenthal and Murphy.
The Senate hopes for a final vote on the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday. The House already has approved its version of the NDAA. Unlike the Senate bill, it would substantially increase the numbers of Sikorsky helicopters and F-35s requested by the Pentagon.
A final bill will be crafted by House and Senate negotiators, but the White House has threatened to veto the bill if it contains certain provisions, including stripping money from the fund that pays for military operations overseas to spend on weapons systems.