By: Ethan Rosenkranz
Earlier, the Project On Government Oversight reported on an amendment being considered by a group of Republican Senators to ameliorate the impact of spending reductions, known assequestration, on the Pentagon’s budget. On Wednesday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), along with Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and James Inhofe (R-OK), introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would increase the cap on Pentagon spending this year to $524 billion instead of the $498 billion cap currently in law. Senator McCain’s amendment would then constrain Pentagon spending over the next eight years in order to make up for the savings lost this year.
Regrettably, this is yet another example of Congress kicking the can down the road instead of living within its means, or more specifically, living within the budget caps that it set for itself two years ago when it enacted the Budget Control Act (BCA). It also means special treatment for the bloated Pentagon budget.
Yesterday, twenty-four organizations from across the ideological spectrum, including POGO, sent letters to all members of the Senate opposing the McCain amendment to the NDAA. The groups said:
The proposed amendment is a shell game that would allow the Pentagon to avoid making hard choices while gambling on America’s future. Even after sequestration and the BCA caps, the Pentagon will remain near record high levels of spending. With the war in Iraq over and our troops coming home from Afghanistan, the reductions mandated under the BCA are in line with historical averages, and completely manageable if Congress and the Pentagon do their jobs and make the hard decisions that fiscal responsibility requires.
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, also came out in opposition to the McCain amendment because it would provide relief to the Pentagon while ignoring the impact of spending reductions to domestic agencies and programs. Reports CQ Roll Call (behind a paywall):
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday joined a growing number of skeptics in rejecting an amendment…that would alleviate the strain of sequester on defense in fiscal 2014.
Even the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), doesn’t support modifying or nullifying sequestration for the Pentagon. According to Defense Daily (also behind a paywall):
McConnell said the BCA and the sequestration it set up have been “highly successful” and have reduced overall government spending three years in a row. “I think it’s a bad idea to revisit a law that’s actually working and reducing spending.” he said.
Instead of delaying making tough decisions about national security funding priorities, Congress and the Pentagon must begin budgeting to current law spending caps. Fortunately, there is no shortage of ideas for ways to save money. Last year, POGO joined with Taxpayers for Common Sense to release a list of recommendations that could save the Pentagon nearly $700 billion over the next decade. Conservative organizations R Street and National Taxpayers Union have also released a set of recommendations for military spending reforms.
In fact, an easy way for the Senate to save billions of taxpayer dollars is by limiting the compensation that the federal government pays contractors. A bipartisan amendment to the NDAA drafted by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Charles Grassley (R-IA), would do just that. It would set the contractor compensation cap at $230,700 per year, adjusted annually, instead of allowing it to soon rise to over $950,000. The cap does not limit how much contractors can pay their executives or employees—only how much the federal government will repay them. POGO strongly supports this amendment.
Congress must reject the McCain amendment to the NDAA if it is offered, and get to work bringing the Pentagon’s budget in line with current law spending caps.