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McConnell calls for higher US defense spending over the next year

U.S. Senate Republicans weekly policy lunch at U.S. Capitol in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called on Congress on Tuesday to increase defense spending in the coming year to confront what he termed growing threats from Russia and China.

"In this environment, we need to continue to plus up defense," McConnell told reporters, adding that other NATO countries also need to increase their emphasis on defense.

His remarks could put him at odds with Republicans in the House of Representatives who are considering proposals to keep defense spending at current levels in fiscal year 2024, which begins on Oct. 1, while cutting about $150 billion mainly from nondefense discretionary spending.

House Republicans intend to use the current debt ceiling debate to exact spending cuts from President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

But McConnell, who has taken a back seat to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in debt and spending discussions up to now, said defense allocations must meet the challenges that face the United States on the global stage.

"We have not only Russia and Ukraine ... but we have the ongoing challenge of meeting China in the future," McConnell said at a news conference.

"Our allies around the world are seriously focused now on having defense spending fit the need, and the need obviously by any estimation is going up."

Last year, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included $13.4 billion in economic aide for Ukraine and $2.4 billion to help resettle Ukrainians in the United States.

The military aid came on top of a record $858 billion in U.S. defense spending for the current fiscal year, which marked an increase from $740 billion and exceeded a request from Biden.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Katharine Jackson; Editing by Chris Reese and Alistair Bell)