In Washington, there are rare occasions when competing political parties and opposite branches of the federal government share a similar goal and work together to achieve it. Unfortunately, the fiscal year (FY) 2016 Pentagon budget, which breaks the spending caps set by sequestration, might be a time for bi-partisan agreement. The Defense spending caps is set at $499 billion; but President Obama appears to be preparing to send to Congress a Pentagon budget request of $534 billion, which will be coupled with a request of $51 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to fund conflicts in the Middle East.
That additional $35 billion could present a problem because that increase could mean an automatic trigger in mandatory cuts.
The $534 billion request for Pentagon spending is the highest base budget ever submitted. The $534 billion is a 7.9 percent increase over the $495 billion FY15 base budget. When adding in OCO funds, this budget is the largest since 2012.
This latest Pentagon budget request coming from the White House should concern taxpayers on several fronts. The first is the likelihood that the spending caps set for sequestration will in fact be busted for FY16. Regardless of the threat of “mandatory cuts,” the tendency to promise fiscal restraint is never enough and now with this request it is just another example of how even making spending limits law, it really hasn’t mattered when it comes to the desire of the White House and Congress to spend more taxpayer money. The Ryan-Murray Budget deal of 2013 busted the spending caps and promised “future cuts” to make up for it.
The second problem is that the OCO account is still being used as a slush fund, even after the spending caps are already seemingly set to be broken. Year after year OCO is still an avenue for lawmakers to fund pet programs and other various projects that really have no value to taxpayers or the Defense of the country.
The latest Pentagon budget request continues to waste taxpayer money on weapons programs like the F-35, that TPA, and other budget and Pentagon watchdog groups, have been criticizing for many years. Not only will the FY 2016 budget continue production of the F-35, it appears that the latest request will include $10.6 billion for 57 F-35s, which is an increase from 38 that were approved in the FY15 budget. This increase comes at a time when the Pentagon is preparing to start work on what could be a competitor for the F-35. According to Gillian Rich of Investor’s Business Daily:
Development of a next-generation fighter jet would come amid cost overruns, schedule delays and technical glitches for the F-35. Meanwhile, China allegedly has used stolen F-35 plans to help create its own stealth fighter, the J-31.
Sequestration was never the best answer, but it worked. President Obama and Congress were given more than a year to come up with cuts to domestic and defense spending to avoid sequestration, but they failed to act.. Once mandatory cuts kicked in, discretionary spending decreased and real nominal cuts were achieved.
OCO is essentially a slush fund that provides a way for more wasteful spending to be approved without it having to be subject to any type of spending caps that are associated with the Pentagon’s base budget. The United States needs to defend itself and preserve all of our country’s national security concerns. What it does not need to do is spend billions under the guise of “war spending” just so programs can be funded without the normal channels of oversight and accountability.
This latest Pentagon Budget request is further proof that President Obama has no plans to rein in wasteful Defense spending. The biggest concern for taxpayers should be that the Republican-controlled Congress may accept the increase in Defense spending which would spell doom for the budget caps. According to Todd Harrison in Forbes:
Despite the Republican takeover of the Senate, the impediments to reaching a long-term deal on the BCA remain the same. Both sides want to raise the defense budget caps, but they can’t agree on how to pay for it. Republicans (generally) want to raise the defense budget caps and pay for it with other spending cuts. The President, who still has to sign any piece of legislation modifying the BCA, wants to raise the defense and non-defense budget caps and pay for it with higher revenues, as previewed in the State of the Union Address.
The blueprint for reform shouldn’t be finding a way to increase spending over the next several years, it should be one that looks to cut the fat and make the DOD more efficient . Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy William D. Hartung took the Huffington Post last week and put forth those very recommendations:
Before busting the budget caps and larding the war budget with items that have nothing to do with fighting wars, the Pentagon should be required to reduce the massive waste and inefficiency that characterizes its current operations. Even more importantly, the department should rearrange its misguided priorities so it can equip and train U.S. forces to address the most urgent challenges of the 21st century.
Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter heads to Capitol Hill this week to have his confirmation hearings and detail the President’s FY16 request for Pentagon spending. The security of the United States and its citizens is extremely important, but using taxpayer money to fund a bloated budget and a fancy-named slush fund is not the answer to preserving American safety.