By JOHN T. BENETT
WASHINGTON — Senior congressional Republicans are vowing to closely scrub President Barack Obama’s new war-funding request, with one saying it “cries out for oversight.”
On Thursday, just as both chambers were wrapping up work before a weeklong July 4 recess, the White House — after months of delays — submitted a $58.6 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO) spending proposal. It seeks $6 billion for new weapon systems, including armed drones, bombs, vehicles and military aircraft.
GOP congressional staffers gave the request an initial review, and by late afternoon, Republican members turned up the rhetoric in public statements.
“This $60 billion budget request for overseas operations is nearly five months late and cries out for oversight,” House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., told CongressWatch in a statement.
“In coming weeks, our subcommittee will examine this proposal in detail to make sure it fully supports and protects our deployed war fighters,” he said. “ And, given the gains of [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] in Iraq and Syria, continuing uncertainty in Afghanistan, growing chaos in Libya and terrorism rearing its head across the globe, our committee will expect answers.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., warned the Obama administration that “Congress is not a rubber stamp.”
“The administration delayed this proposal for over four months and now appears to be in a rush to deliver it to the Hill with little detail on how the department would spend the money,” McKeon said. “The Armed Services Committee will examine the proposal closely, once it is actually transmitted and details are provided.”
The HASC chairman signaled he will call Pentagon and administration witnesses to testify about the OCO request, saying he has a list of questions.
“First, how does OCO reset the equipment returning from hard combat in Afghanistan? Is this request more realistic than the artificially low requests of the past that ultimately harmed readiness?” McKeon said. “And how does the president’s new $5 billion counterterrorism fund differ from programs we are already resourcing?”
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said Thursday he also wants to see the details of just what the Obama administration intends to spend the OCO monies on.
“The number isn’t important, it’s what we should use it for,” Inhofe told reporters. “And what I think we should do is authorize where it should go … and how it should be used.”
The House and Senate Armed Services committees, as well as the House Appropriations Committee, moved forward with their bills without having the OCO request.
Inhofe said lawmakers “will make time” to scrub the request, when it finally arrives at the Capitol, and make adjustments to the administration’s spending proposals.
Democrats largely remained mum about the OCO request after it hit Capitol Hill.
Those who did comment provided the White House with political cover, applauding the administration for including funds to arm and train Syrian rebels and a proposed new counterterrorism fund.
“I support the president’s overseas contingency operation funding request, including the Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund and Regional Stabilization Initiative,” SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement.
“In light of recent events in Iraq and Syria, this is appropriate spending,” Levin said. “The request includes $500 million to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian opposition, which closely matches language approved by a strong bipartisan majority on the Armed Services Committee during our consideration of the defense authorization bill.”
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., a Senate National Security Working Group member, said, “I welcome the president’s request for authorization to provide training and equipment for vetted, moderate Syrian opposition fighters.
“The Syrian opposition is confronting the brutality of the Assad’s regime and its Hezbollah allies as well as the extreme violence of [ISIL] and its supporters, which are trying to destabilize the entire region,” Casey said.
“This request includes a Regional Stabilization Initiative that would help our partners in the region manage the effects of the fighting in Syria, which are spilling over its borders,” he said. “Instability in the region not only strengthens [ISIL] but the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Assad. This decision is in our national security interest.”