Today the full House of Representatives approved this massive piece of legislation, authorizing Pentagon spending for the coming fiscal year. There isn’t much to cheer about in a bill that authorizes $600 billion for the Pentagon, about $80 billion of which is requested without a single detailed line item.
The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request of $79.4 billion is for the continuation of operations in Afghanistan. But the request is just for the pot of money – no details on how the Pentagon plans to spend it. Just, “Trust us, we need this.” Luckily, the House did adopt one policy change that could finally begin to rein in this slush fund. This amendment, sponsored by Rep. Mulvaney (R-SC) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) would force the Pentagon to justify, under criteria developed by OMB, when a program goes in the OCO budget and when it goes in the “base budget.”
The House continued to reject any of the modest reforms to the growth of compensation and benefits requested by Pentagon leadership. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, said to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, “First, we’re not advocating direct cuts to troops’ pay. Rather, this package slows the growth of basic pay and housing allowances while reducing commissary subsidies and modernizing our health care system.” But even these modest reforms were rejected.
In fact, the House adopted an amendment to prohibit DoD from, “using funds to close commissary stores.” But closing commissaries was never proposed by the Pentagon. Instead, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs are proposing a gradual reduction of the current federal subsidies for commissaries to bring them more in line with how base exchanges have been run for years.
And Rep. Adam Smith’s (D-WA) attempt to force the House to vote on the Pentagon’s request for a round of base closure in 2017 was thwarted when the Rules Committee refused to make the amendment in order.
If no reductions to the growth of benefits, and no efficiencies to the current physical infrastructure will be allowed, maybe the military services will be allowed to cut some of their antiquated weapon systems. Unfortunately, all of the major recommendations in this area were also rejected by the house, from “laying up” some of the Navy’s cruisers, through forcing the Army to upgrade more Abrams tanks, to moving up the start date of a carrier refuel.
It’s past time for the House of Representatives to recognize that the fiscal realities of today mean that everyone, even the folks in the Pentagon, have to get by on less money. Rejecting the attempts by the Pentagon to cut spending or realize efficiencies is a bad start.