'Fiscal Conservatives' Make Their Priorities Clear With Defense Bill

Republicans rubber-stamped $700 billion for defense – twice as much as the government would save with Obamacare repeal

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with his GOP colleagues discussing their latest effort to repeal Obamacare Tuesday. Credit: Ron Sachs/CNP/MediaPunch/IPX

On Monday night, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the 2018 defense policy bill, a package worth nearly $700 billion. The bill sailed through the chamber with broad bipartisan support, as Republican senators were simultaneously weighing a last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act before the window to do so with a simple majority closes next week.

The defense spending bill, which only funds the U.S. military for a single year, costs roughly twice as much as the $350 billion the government would save if Republicans succeed at stripping 32 million Americans of the health coverage they receive through the Affordable Care Act. 

The Senate's "fiscal conservatives" appeared to have no problem whatsoever throwing their support behind the massive spending bill, approving $37 billion above and beyond the amounts requested by the White House. Among the beefed-up line items is $705 million earmarked for Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, about $558.5 million more than the Trump administration asked for.

Eighty-nine senators supported the measure, and just eight opposed: Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy and Jeff Merkley were joined by Republicans Bob Corker, Mike Lee and Rand Paul in voting against the legislation.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, chair of the Armed Services Committee, championed the legislation on the Senate floor, citing recent collisions – like the one involving a naval destroyer named after his father – as a byproduct of underfunding the military.

"The greatest harm to our national security and our military," McCain said Monday, is "the accumulation of years of uncertain, untimely and inadequate defense funding."

For those curious, that $700 billion budget represents a little less than a fifth of what it would initially cost to implement a single-payer system like the one Bernie Sanders proposed last week. (In the first decade, Sanders' Medicare-for-All bill is estimated to cost $3.2 trillion a year.)