House GOP members threatening to take budget down over defense

A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter lands in Baghdad, Iraq, Feb. 13, 2008.

Washington (CNN)A sizeable bloc of House Republicans are vowing to defeat the GOP budget that was unveiled on Tuesday, arguing it shortchanges defense programs at a time that multiple national security threats around the world means Pentagon spending should be boosted.

"As a Republican I do not want our budget to go down. But as a veteran and somebody who has served in the Army I am not going to be part of something that I believe that makes our country weaker," Florida GOP Rep. Tom Rooney told reporters Tuesday.
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Failure to pass a budget won't trigger any crisis -- budget resolutions are nonbinding and essentially symbolic documents. They do set spending levels for various government agencies and outline the party's priorities for reforming entitlement programs and the tax code, but they lack the force of law.
    But if House Speaker John Boehner can't cobble together enough votes from his own members for a budget, he will add another embarrassing setback to a pile of failed efforts this year. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged that total GOP control of Congress meant they would prove their party can govern and showcasing a unified budget is key to that pledge.
    Last month, Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, got 70 House Republicans to sign a letter insisting that defense programs receive a minimum of $561 billion that was included in President Barack Obama's budget plan.
    Republican budget writers, however, were put in a box because of the automatic across the board spending cuts, known as sequestration, put into place by a previous budget law. Those cuts cap defense spending at $523 billion.
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    To address concerns from defense hawks, the House Budget Committee used an accounting trick and added more than $30 billion in defense money to the "Overseas Contingency Operations," an emergency fund that doesn't count toward their total spending number. On top of that money the committee created a separate $20 billion reserve fund to add more savings from other programs and promised to set both pots of money aside for defense.
    But multiple House Republicans told CNN the move is merely a gimmick.
    "I don't think that it's fair game -- I think it's fairy dust stuff," Rooney said.
    The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, also seized on the way Republicans structured Pentagon money, saying on Wednesday the GOP budget "plays a shameless shell game with our defense spending. It would make Enron accountants blush."
    Boehner and his lieutenants also know some conservatives won't back the measure because they want bolder reforms, but threat from Republicans who want to see bolstered defense spending is real.
    GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger ticked off a list of flashpoints across the globe -- ISIS in the Middle East, Ukraine, Boko Haram -- that weren't major threats in 2011, arguing the trend shows the need to respond to growing threats, not cut back.
    "It's a totally different world we live in and I think we have to recognize that," he told CNN, adding he's not sure how he will vote on the current measure and hopes it will be changed.
    House Republican leaders also can't afford to lose more an a couple dozen of their own members on this vote, because Democrats will surely oppose the measure which repeals Obamacare and cuts food stamp and education programs.
    There remains hope by some in the GOP, though, that they can strike a balance that works for the majority of the caucus.
    But even if House Republicans figure out a way to pass this budget, the constraints on future proposals will persist until Democrats and Republicans broker a compromise to do away with the automatic cuts that they agree are unworkable for both domestic and defense programs.
    "Both sides need to come together and put their grown up pants on and figure out how do we overcome this issue," Kinzinger said.
    A budget resolution brokered between the two chambers is supposed to be negotiated by April 15th so spending panels can move forward with their work.