By Tila Neguse, legislative associate on domestic policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation
President Obama is right (“President warns of ‘draconian’ military cuts,” Oct. 8). Congress needs to work to find a solution to sequestration. But not just for defense. Sequestration cuts created by the Budget Control Act were meant to be equally divided between defense and non-defense spending. However, the Pentagon has been able to effectively avoid the impact of sequestration cuts, by moving non-war items into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. Last year, the OCO included at least $10 billion for line items that were undeniably not for war activities, such as $90 million for the unreliable and dangerous V-22 Osprey aircraft. Because it is hard to track the migration of funds from the regular Pentagon budget to the OCO account, the dollar amount could be as high as $20 billion or $30 billion.
The crisis in Iraq and Syria is not an excuse to bust the spending caps or increase the Pentagon’s already bloated budget. There’s enough money in the Pentagon’s base budget and plenty of slush in OCO. The fact that the Pentagon wanted to use the war budget this year to purchase eight inefficient and costly F-35 fighter jets is proof that Congress needs to exercise its oversight authority to rein in wasteful Pentagon spending. The OCO is specifically identified for combat-related operations and efforts and should not be used as a slush fund to make up for budgetary pitfalls.
While other areas in the discretionary budget have faced extreme austerity, for years, the Pentagon has relied on the OCO account to circumvent cuts in its base budget and fund non-war-related items. It’s time to put an end to the budget gimmicking and urge Congress to budget in a way that serves the nation’s actual needs. We should be urging Congress to find a balanced alternative to sequestration, one that raises new revenues, preserves funding for programs that serve the most vulnerable populations, makes investments to strengthen the economy and finds much-needed savings in the Pentagon budget, including reining in spending on OCO.
From Tila Neguse, legislative associate on domestic policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Washington, D.C.