The 2014 Omnibus: Defense
The defense appropriations bill provides $486.9 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, which is relatively the same as the amount of funding the Pentagon received post-sequester in Fiscal Year 2013. However, $85 billion is included in the bill in the war funding or Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget. At $85 billion, the OCO budget, which was created to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rises for the first time in years and is almost $6 billion higher than the amount requested by the Administration this year. The OCO budget is not subject to spending caps and is exempt from sequestration and this $6 billion boost serves as a cushion for the Pentagon and will presumably be used to avert spending cuts and fund non-war spending in the base budget. As we exit two wars, it is illogical that war funding should rise. This is a disingenuous budgeting practice on the part of defense appropriators, who were seeking to soften some of the cuts coming to the Pentagon by placing more money in the OCO account. As we well know, there are many areas of waste, fraud, and abuse in the Pentagon’s budget. If Congress, and appropriators in particular, take a long, hard look at the Pentagon budget, there are billions of savings to be found. Still, despite this deceitful move with the war budget, there are a few victories within the Defense Appropriations bill:
- The firewall calling for equity between defense and non-defense spending was maintained.
- There are still spending caps on the defense budget.
- The bill includes minor cuts in procurement. For example, the Pentagon will receive 20 less of the controversial Littoral Combat Ships.
- The movement to cut Pentagon spending has been successful in bringing the conversation about defense spending reductions into the mainstream.
No longer engaged in any active wars, the U.S. defense budget must come down far more to match past post-war drawdowns. But we have laid the groundwork; years ago cutting the defense budget seemed an impossible task. The question is no longer, “Can we cut the defense budget?” But rather, “How much can the defense budget be cut?” Now, there is even bipartisan support for defense spending cuts. Going forward in advocating to bring the Pentagon budget down will also involve incorporating a conversation about the increasing militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which is a driving force behind our soaring Pentagon budget. As the U.S. exits two wars and we strive to avoid another war, the country should strengthen its civilian toolkit and should pare the defense budget down to reflect post-war spending levels. While the FY2014 Defense Appropriation bill does not reflect the post-war drawdown we would like to see, the precedent that Pentagon spending can be reduced is here to stay, and the future holds more opportunities to bring the budget down.