By Tim Starks
Across the political spectrum — among anti-war liberals, among conservative budget hawks — there are those who argue that the war-related Overseas Contingency Operations account is simply a “slush fund” that needs to go away already, or at least be chopped down further, with the Iraq War officially over and the Afghanistan War on course to do the same.
One expert hailing from the conservative side of the spectrum is making the case that President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 request for the account is just right.
Roger Zakheim is a former top GOP House Armed Services Committee aide who now is an attorney at Covington & Burling LLP and a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. His contention is that there is a “dual purpose” for the $58.6 billion OCO account: “to fund the current fight and to replace the equipment lost in the fight. Congress should scrutinize the requests, but as long as there is a nexus to reset it is legitimate to be included in the OCO request.
“The Pentagon has rightfully seized the war funding to fix what it can of a military budget riddled with risk and funding gaps,” he wrote for The Weekly Standard on Wednesday. ”Congress ought to fund it in full.”
Zakheim was responding in part to a brief by the Stimson Center, which pointed out that the OCO was shrinking, but not as fast as the United States was pulling out troops. The argument goes round and round — some contend that the military has already been “reset.”
Congress is scrutinizing the request all week, including Wednesday. The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the subject Wednesday, where Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. referred to OCO as a “slush fund” bedeviled by waste. It all fits into a larger debate about what would happen to the military if OCO went away.