Why Two Senate Amigos’ Opposition to Ryan-Murray Budget Plan Matters

Two of the Senate's "Three Amigos," GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, announced Thursday evening they will oppose Congress' first bipartisan budget plan since 2009. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Two of the Senate’s “Three Amigos,” GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, announced Thursday evening they will oppose Congress’ first bipartisan budget plan since 2009. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., said early Friday morning that there are “certain things” the chamber must do before leaving for the holidays next Friday. “We need to do those two important bills: the budget and defense,” he said.

To pass both, Reid must find 60 votes to end debate. The budget resolution, which easily passed the House Thursday evening, has many skeptics in the Senate — from both political parties. That means Reid’s vote-counting operation will be working overtime this weekend in an arm-twisting operation to secure 60 votes for both measures.

But that persuasion campaign hit a snag Thursday evening when two Senate defense hawks announced their opposition to a bipartisan budget resolution the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, dubbed “a good deal for defense.”

In a bit of a surprise move, Senate Armed Services Committee members Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced in separate statements they will oppose the spending and deficit-reduction plan crafted by the chairs of the House and Senate Budget committees, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Graham’s office fired off its broadside on the Ryan-Murray budget blueprint first, in a statement saying the plan would “do disproportionate harm to our military retirees.”

“I truly appreciate Congressman Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray for their work trying to write a budget that provides relief to the Department of Defense. But this agreement doesn’t do enough to protect those who have spent their lives protecting our nation.”

He was referring to part of the resolution that would see military pensions shrink to help lessen defense and domestic sequestration cuts.

Graham continued: “I support comprehensive, not piecemeal, pay and benefit reform to deal with rising military personnel costs.”

Ayotte’s statement came a few minutes later, with the rising GOP star saying she “cannot support a budget agreement that fails to deal with the biggest drivers of our debt, but instead pays for more federal spending on the backs of our active duty and military retirees.”

Instead of the proposed Ryan-Murray military benefits changes, Ayotte proposed what amounts to Washington boilerplate to help shrink pending Pentagon sequester cuts.

“My hope is that both parties can work together to replace these unfair cuts that impact our men and women in uniform with more responsible savings, such as the billions that the Government Accountability Office has identified in waste, duplication and fraud across the federal government.”

Here’s why the Graham-Ayotte opposition matters: One defense industry lobbyist told Defense News last week that the so-called “Three Amigos” would be key to getting to 60 votes in the Senate.

“In the Senate, I think you get the defense folks: McCain, Graham, Ayotte and some others,” the lobbyist said.

A week later, however, only the lead “Amigo,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., supports the deal — and he doesn’t love it.

Many Senate Democrats dislike the Ryan-Murray plan because the House attached a GOP-favored provision on doctor Medicare reimbursements but opted against tacking on a Democratic-desired provision to extend unemployment benefits.

That means some Democratic defections are possible, making the support of moderate, deal-cutting, pro-defense Republicans like Ayotte and Graham even more important.

But now two “Amigos” are off the board. It turns out getting to 60 on the Ryan-Murray deal won’t be as easy as even the most inside of Washington insiders thought. Looks like Harry Reid is going to work all weekend.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett