A Misguided Approach to Defense Funding

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Some House lawmakers are attempting to increase defense funding above the caps set by a recent bipartisan agreement through questionable alterations in a special fund for war spending.

When approving the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act last month, the House Armed Services Committee set the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account — which supports military operations across the globe — at $18 billion below the Pentagon’s request. The legislation shifts that money to the military’s regular budget, in part to purchase additional major weapons not requested by military leaders.

Defense authorization legislation sets policies for national security; a separate appropriation bill is used to fund those policies. The full House is expected to vote on the authorization bill later this week. 

The reduced OCO budget would only be able to support overseas operations until next April. This would mean additional funding would later be required to support war operations through September of next year, when Fiscal 2017 ends.

The House Appropriations Committee — which begins considering spending bills this week– unofficially set defense and domestic discretionary spending at the level agreed to in last fall’s budget agreement.

House lawmakers who support underfunding the war spending account think the next president would then have little choice but to approve additional funding for combat operations, which would boost overall defense spending above the limit set by the agreement last fall. This tactic is a poor, non-transparent way to deal with the defense budget.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter condemned the approach taken by the House Armed Services Committee, saying the committee is “gambling with funding for our troops in places like Iraq and Syria.”

External links:
House and Senate Heading for a Showdown Over War Funding (Washington Post)
Bill Sets Up Major OCO Fight with Pentagon (Defense News)

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