By RUSSELL RUMBAUGH
The Republican-controlled House last week voted for lower defense spending than the President asked for. That may not seem like news, since the House Appropriations press release itself boasted the bill was “below the President’s request.”
But the Appropriations committee was trying to have it both ways. Yes, the bill’s budget for base DoD was lower than the President’s request (actually $5.5B less since the House cut $1B from the MILCON request too). But the committee had also increased the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) accounts—the war funding—by $5B, neatly offsetting most of the cut to the Department of Defense base budget. The offset also didn’t count against the BCA caps since OCO funding is exempted from the caps.
On the floor though, four congressmen offered an amendment to cut that very OCO plus-up. Congressmen Mick Mulvaney, a leading Tea Party Republican, and Chris Van Hollen, Democratic head of the House Budget Committee, led a fight to cut $3.5B from OCO, explicitly citing that it was more than the Pentagon and President requested. They did not, however, emphasize that the overage in OCO was to make up for the base budget being cut. They only cut $3.5B of the $5B overage because they left $1.5B in OCO for National Guard and Reserve Equipment, a traditional Congressional plus-up.
Two other amendments were also passed that significantly chopped war funding, cutting support for the Afghanistan Security Forces to the tune of more than $3B. Added to the Mulvaney/Van Hollen amendment, that’s a $6B reduction in war funding.* Without (most of) the base funding cut being made up.
For a sense of how big a figure the cuts are at this stage of the game, the other 22 amendments agreed to on the floor that moved money cut only $240M total, or only 4% of the money cut by those three amendments.
By shifting money from the base budget to OCO, the House Appropriations Committee was trying to claim cuts while actually providing all the funding the President asked for. But the House itself—through action on the floor—really did cut the defense budget from the President’s request. It’s pretty dramatic to be living under caps, not to mention the threat of sequester, and still have the House cutting the defense budget further.
Oh, and by the way, this bill by itself is above the post-sequester capped levels, meaning it’s all irrelevant unless a deal is found (which likely makes it irrelevant anyway).
* Updated to reflect better estimates; the three amendments don’t add to the total because of other adjustments.