Defense Hawks Eye Emergency Funds to Exceed Caps in Debt Deal

  • Key lawmakers seek cap-exempt bills on Ukraine, China
  • Graham threatens to stall debt bill, wants answers on Ukraine

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Republicans and Democrats are coalescing around a time-tested way to bypass spending caps for defense: an emergency supplemental.

Lawmakers are openly talking about stacking a future supplemental spending bill for Ukraine with other defense spending, partly to help the industry make weapons for Ukraine, but also to fill coffers for other programs meant to give the US an advantage over China.

“A supplemental would be very helpful,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “That would be one way to deal with the inadequate top line for the Department of Defense, as well as the threat from China, the shrinking Navy and Air Force that we are facing, and the need to provide additional assistance to Ukraine.”

(Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) walk through the US Capitol in February 2020.

Maine is home to General Dynamics Corp.‘s extensive shipbuilding operations.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to hold up consideration of the debt-limit bill (H.R. 3746) if congressional leaders don’t answer his questions about planned cap-exempt spending bills for Ukraine or the US military.

BGOV Bill Summary: H.R. 3746, Debt Ceiling and Spending Deal

“I want to hear, are we going to do a supplemental? Are we going to do a supplemental for Ukraine? Can we do a supplemental for our defense?” Graham told reporters Wednesday when asked about the bill. “I’m going to vote no, and the difference between me voting no and burning the place down is, I want answers to my questions.”

Armed Services Members, White House Weigh in

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he expects supplementals not just for Ukraine but other “troubled” spots in the world and to address competition with China.

“I fully expect there will be more defense spending the rest of the fiscal year,” Lamborn said.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a Ukraine supplemental could carry other US defense needs. The panel’s top Republican, Roger Wicker (Miss.), said he would work on such a supplemental, adding he’s a “likely no” on the debt deal.

“They’ve built this incredible mousetrap that we have to figure out,” Reed told reporters this week. “With Ukraine, you’re going to have to have a supplemental. We might put some other stuff in too.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) later tweeted, “Someone’s saying the quiet part out loud.”

Asked if she anticipates the agreement affecting the Biden administration’s ability to get more Ukraine funding, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said Tuesday, “I do not.”

While Democrats may support cap-exempt funding for Ukraine, that doesn’t mean they’ll seek to use emergency bills to circumvent spending limits at any opportunity.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Ukraine funding is “a legitimate emergency” and should be outside the caps. Other than that, he hopes to stick to the cap level in the debt-limit bill.

“Emergencies happen,” Smith said Wednesday. “9/11 happened. The pandemic happened. So we did emergency spending for that. But on the other hand, I know a lot of people kvetching, if you will, about the defense number and looking for ways around it. But a deal’s a deal and this ought to be the deal.”

Smith also said he thought the agreement’s defense number “is more than adequate.”

— With assistance from Steven T. Dennis.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at; Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at; Loren Duggan at

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