Democrats Well-Positioned to Retake House from GOP

By Jon Harper

Photo: iStock

Recent polling indicates that Democrats are favored to regain control of the House of Representatives after the midterm elections, a development which could upend plans for military modernization.

A Democratic-led Congress would be less amenable to continued increases in defense spending, said House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who is in line to take charge of the committee if his party does well at the polls in November.

“We’ve got a deficit, we’ve got infrastructure problems, we’ve got health care [and] education” programs to fund, he said at a recent conference.

“How much of that [budgetary] pie can go to defense?” he asked. “I think we’re going to take a more realistic look at that.”

President Donald Trump’s latest budget blueprint called for modest annual increases in military spending over the next five years. Smith said the $716 billion spending level for defense in fiscal year 2019 is already too high. “It’s certainly not going to be there in the future,” he said, noting the $22 trillion national debt and a $2 trillion GOP-sponsored tax cut. “We are not in a fiscal position to have the size of defense budget that a lot of people envision.”

The Pentagon’s ambitious nuclear modernization agenda could come under additional scrutiny should Democrats win big in November, he suggested. The Congressional Budget Office last year estimated that current plans for the nation’s nuclear arsenal would cost more than $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years.

“The question that we’re going to have to answer … is where can we save money?” Smith said. “Nuclear weapons are an area where we’re spending too much.”

Jacob Cohn, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said it would be an uphill battle for those seeking to boost the Pentagon’s budget if Democrats retake the House.

It could also be a recipe for political gridlock and an inability for lawmakers to pass budgets on time.

“I could also see the risk of a government shutdown potentially increasing particularly if you weigh Republican priorities for increased defense spending, the president’s priority for funding for a border wall, the complete opposition to a border wall amongst most of the Democratic caucus, and the broader fiscal concerns that you’re now seeing on the Democratic side,” he said.

“I could see a lot more brinksmanship in that regard … if there’s a big change in the balance of power on the Hill,” he added. 

Topics: Budget, Defense Department

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