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Lieberman, GOP Push For Military Spending Hike

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The Democratic budget passed late on Thursday night may "tax too much, borrow too much and spend to much" -- in the oft-repeated words of its opponents -- but those critics tossed a few more borrowed dollars on the pile before moving it through.

That taxing and borrowing was called for to increase spending for the military.

Sen. Joe Liberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with Democrats, joined with Republicans and "centrist" Democrats to argue that defense spending couldn't remain flat if President Obama is escalating the war in Afghanistan.

"My one view of what is being recommended for defense spending is spending is just about flat from last year or this year," said Lieberman. "And I don't think that's adequate."

Some Democrats, meanwhile, have called for big cuts in defense spending.

"Our troops are under tremendous strains. The equipment needs to be, as we say, reset, fixed because it's been so used in combat," he said. An amendment introduced by Lieberman and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) passed Thursday night and budgeted for an increased Army of 30,000 additional soldiers. The troops would be paid for from a deficit-neutral reserve fund.

"I agree with him on that," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), the GOP whip, before the amendment was introduced. "And I think there are several on our side. I just talked to Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] who had similar ideas. It's very important that we fund our military while we're in military conflict and I think under the budget the president submitted, they're under funded."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) doesn't like the trend in military spending, either. "Certainly military spending as a portion of GDP is not playing as big a role in this budget as it has in the past," he said. "I think for all of us on both sides of the aisle that know that we live in a dangerous world, that's something that should raise some concerns."

Lieberman said he'd been in talks with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) about increasing the military budget. Nelson, however, said he wanted to look for cost-savings before increasing funding.

"I wonder if he's talking to the other Nelson," he said, referring to Florida's Bill Nelson. "I think We're going to push DoD to find ways to reduce some of the overhead costs that are associated with procurement by delays and overruns."

Nelson said he wants more military sharing. "We're also pushing for more inter-branch cooperation and sharing [of] information and equipment, so we don't have so much duplication," said Nelson. "Not everyone has to have a brand new style airplane."

Kyl, though, said there's always an effort to reduce procurement abuse but it never succeeds. "There always is. There always is. We always try. It's always hard to do," he said.

For Kyl, anyone counting on savings from fixing a broken procurement system will be disappointed. "So focus on the problem, but lower your expectations of how much you're actually going to be able to squeeze out of it, that's all I can say," he said. "It's a little bit like the tax gap. We know that unfortunately some people don't report all of the income and we should be collecting more taxes. But it's easier to identify the problem than it is to get a solution that's cost effective."