The Pentagon didn’t get the authority it ‘required’ but it got more money than it needed.
Eight days before the end of the fiscal year, the Senate Appropriations Committee has fired the first shot in the skirmish that will, hopefully, lead to avoiding the second federal government shutdown in three years. To get around the requirement that spending bills first originate in the House, the Senate employed a common tactic and tacked their draft of a short term Continuing Resolution to a previous House Joint Resolution called the “Hire More Heroes Act of 2015.”
The continuing resolution would keep the federal government limping along at fiscal year 2015 levels of funding through December 11, 2015. The bill is relatively rich in detail but I’ll focus on the Pentagon spending aspects of the draft resolution. Overall, it conforms to the topline caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 – $1.017 trillion for fiscal year 2016. That’s a good first step. The measure also explicitly rejects the Pentagon’s request (actually, the Defense Department documents called it a “requirement”) that they be given blanket authority to start new programs, enter into multi-year contracts and increase production rates on existing programs. These additional authorities would defy the purpose of a Continuing Resolution, which specifically prohibits such actions and is meant to only “continue” existing programs at the previous fiscal year’s funding level. But the Pentagon likes to think it’s special. And, unfortunately, during more than a decade at war, the Congress has allowed the military services to fall into lazy practices where accountability disappears and more spending is always better. So saying “no” to such requests was sensible.
Of course, you get the bad to go with the good in these massive continuing resolutions: The Overseas Contingency Operations account is one place where the Pentagon will end up getting more money than the administration requested for the year. Last year, the account was funded at roughly $64 billion. This year the Pentagon requested only about $51 billion. That number became a political football in the House and Senate Budget Resolutions where it ballooned by another roughly $38 billion. For some reason I haven’t yet sussed out, the resolution would fund the Overseas account at an annualized rate of $74.8 billion. This is substantially greater than last year’s amount but not nearly as much as the budget resolutions would allow. I’ll need to do some more digging to figure out where that number came from, but we know it wasn’t from the Office of Management and Budget.
So, I’ll take the refusal of the Senate Appropriations Committee to allow the Pentagon to run roughshod over the meaning of a Continuing Resolution by “requiring” blanket authorities never intended. Each bit of common sense for the taxpayers is a good thing.