"Think about it, $886 billion. You don't think there's waste? They failed the last five audits," said McCarthy. "I consider myself a hawk, but I don't want to waste money. So I think we've got to find efficiencies."
The $886 billion figure McCarthy referenced is the military spending topline for fiscal year 2024 that House Republican leaders and the Biden administration agreed to as part of their deal to raise the debt limit.
That spending level, which still must be finalized in the appropriations process, is right in line with President Joe Biden's budget request, which calls for a $28 billion increase over the current military budget of $858 billion.
McCarthy voted for that budget late last year even as critics condemned it as outrageously wasteful.
In response to McCarthy's CNN interview, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)—who has been demanding cuts to Pentagon spending for years—tweeted that the Republican leader should finally "put his money where his mouth is and bring our 'Audit the Pentagon' bill to the floor."
"There is plenty of waste and fraud at the Pentagon," wrote Pocan, who co-chairs the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus alongside Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
The bipartisan Audit the Pentagon Act of 2023 would "administer a 0.5% cut to the budget of any office at the Pentagon that does not receive an audit for the first year of the bill's enactment," according to a summary of the legislation. That penalty would rise to 1% in subsequent years, exempting "funding for personnel, families, and military healthcare" from automatic cuts.
Of the bill's 19 co-sponsors, eight are Republicans—though McCarthy is not one of them.
The speaker's remarks Monday came as war hawks in the Senate Republican caucus continued to express dismay over the military spending level set in the debt limit deal, even though it would bring the Pentagon budget to a record high while cutting spending on education, housing programs, and other critical services.
Under the agreement, which drew applause from the CEO of one of the world's leading weapons manufacturers, military outlays would account for nearly 56% of total discretionary spending. But that's apparently not enough for Senate Republicans.
"We're playing a dangerous game with our national security," claimed Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "The bill [McCarthy] produced is inadequate to the threats we face. If the Republican speaker takes the position that we're going to be tough on China... I don't see how we do that with a declining Navy."
Graham and other Republican senators—along with Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.)—are "looking for creative ways to increase the Pentagon budget" beyond the $886 billion topline, Politicoreported last week.
"The most likely vehicle is the next emergency supplemental for Ukraine, which they hope to cram with cash for other Pentagon priorities that normally wouldn't be in the measure," according to Politico. "But doing so could also mean a partisan clash if Democrats oppose reopening the deal through a supplemental without some relief for domestic spending priorities."
The looming fight over Pentagon spending comes months after the Congressional Budget Office issued a report concluding that "the Department of Defense can't accurately account for or report on its physical assets or spending." The department has previously worked to cover up evidence of its massive waste, which is often a boon to arms makers.
Last month, a former top contract negotiator at the Pentagon toldCBS News that "the gouging that takes place" at the Defense Department "is unconscionable," with private companies dramatically overcharging the government for military equipment and other items.
Those comments led a group of senators, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to demand a Pentagon investigation into price gouging by top government contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon.
"The DOD can no longer expect Congress or the American taxpayer to underwrite record military spending while simultaneously failing to account for the hundreds of billions it hands out every year to spectacularly profitable private corporations," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Pentagon chief.