By Tila Neguse and Devon Grayson-Wallace
Recently, there has been a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill calling attention to the bloat in the Pentagon budget. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense passed their version of the Fiscal Year 2015 defense spending bill last week, and the full Appropriations Committee approved it later in the week.
The House held three hearings on the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. The House Appropriations Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the House Budget Committee all took a close look at the President’s official FY2015 funding request for the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or the war fund.
Senate Defense Appropriations Bill
Overall, the Senate Defense Appropriations bill would provide the Department of Defense with $548 billion funding for Fiscal Year 2015 – $489.6 billion for the base budget and $58.3 billion for the supplemental war funding through the Overseas Contingency Operations account.
To meet the budget caps on defense spending Senate appropriators cut into 517 specific programs for a total savings of $11.7 billion. Among other changes, the spending bill would prevent the DoD from awarding contracts to companies that seek to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. by re-incorporating overseas, a tactic known as inversion.
However, the Senate Defense Appropriations bill uses the money saved through these and other reforms to reject some of the cost-savings measures proposed by the Pentagon.
- Like the House defense spending and policy bills and the Senate defense policy bill passed earlier this year, the Senate FY2015 Defense Appropriations bill would continue funding for A-10 Warthog planes, which the Pentagon wants to retire to save $4 billion over five years.
- The bill provides even more money to purchase a dozen EA-18 Growler jets in FY2015 than the House provided, allocating $1.3 billion for these planes the administration did not request.
- Also included in the Senate bill is $848.7 million to continue the George Washington aircraft carrier – the U.S.’s 11th carrier, when no other country has more than two. (The House spending bill would also keep the George Washington carrier active, but provides only $789 million in unrequested funding to maintain it.)
- Unlike the House bills, the Senate Appropriations bill funds the troubled F-35 plane at the number requested by the Pentagon – rather than purchasing more planes than requested as the House did.
- It includes the administration’s request to increase personnel pay by 1 percent, rather than the 1.8 percent increase written into the House appropriation and authorization bills.
The Senate bill would also allocate $58.3 billion for the OCO account, slightly less than the President’s request for $58.6 billion and far less than the $79.4 billion original placeholder. However, this figure is still far too high. OCO funds are not subject to budget caps like the base defense budget is, and the Pentagon has used the OCO account to circumvent the caps in recent years by moving line items from the base budget over to OCO. FCNL has been calling for an end to this practice, as it unfairly allows the Pentagon to avoid reining in spending. Last week’s House hearings on the President’s OCO request echoed our own criticism of this unconstrained account.
Members of the House Speak Out on War Funding (Overseas Contingency Operations)
At the July 16 House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing on the FY2015 OCO request, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work testified that it would only cost about $11 billion to carry out U.S. troops’ post-2014 missions in Afghanistan. Excluding the $5 billion requested for a new counterterrorism partnership fund and the $1 billion requested to reassure U.S. allies in Europe, Secretary Work’s estimate means the President requested nearly $42 billion more than the U.S. needs to wind down in Afghanistan.
Many members reacted to the experts’ testimony throughout the HASC hearing with concern and criticism. Rep. Walter Jones (NC) said:
The American taxpayer is absolutely frustrated and broke. I don’t know why you need this money, it’s just a slush fund anyway.
The next day at the House Budget Committee hearing on the OCO account, Committee Ranking Member Rep. Van Hollen (MD) began the hearing by calling out the tendency for OCO to be used to evade budget caps on defense spending. In his opening statement he said:
…unfortunately, if you look at the OCO budget over the last couple of years, we begin to see creeping allocations from the base budget into the OCO budget. And I have to say, this is not just on the side of the Administration. In fact, I think if you look at the record, Congress has actually been a greater offender in this area.
Rep. Van Hollen went on to say that a recent examination of the DoD’s cost of war between FY2001 and FY2014 reveals that $71 billion was spent to fund non-war-related activities in those years. As he pointed out, allowing this practice is in direct contrast with the House’s recent adoption of an amendment that would ensure OCO funds are used only for war costs.
It is encouraging that a growing number of Congress members recognize the ways OCO has been used to boost defense spending over budget caps, and even more heartening to hear members from multiple committees and both parties publicly acknowledge the need to halt this practice. We have been hard at work lifting up this issue, lobbying dozens of members of Congress in recent months to encourage them to rein in the Pentagon budget by limiting the OCO account. As Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) stated at the Budget hearing:
…some of us have been calling this OCO account [a] slush fund for many years, and I’m glad to hear it being repeated a little bit at this point.
Now that members of Congress are beginning to scrutinize OCO, we are gaining momentum in our efforts to shift the federal budget away from militarism and end the DoD’s slush fund.