The withdrawal of most American troops in Afghanistan and emerging threats elsewhere in the world leave lawmakers with important decisions to make on war funding.
A recent Congressional Research Service report estimates the government has spent $1.6 trillion on war-related activities since 2001. About $1.5 trillion has been for military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the rest spent on diplomatic operations and medical care.
War-related funding, designated as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), is exempt from caps on discretionary defense spending.
With troop levels now so low in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress has a responsibility to consider what are appropriate OCO costs and what expenses really belong in the basic military budget — as well as considering how much longer to fund OCO at all.
Recent operations against ISIS, however, add some uncertainty to these questions.
Unfortunately, elected officials and military leaders have long circumvented spending caps by including military items in OCO that are not related to combat operations. Some defense analysts say more than half of OCO items belong in the main defense budget.
OCO funding should decline to reflect current realities abroad rather than remaining at high levels, where it can be used to undermine the fiscal discipline lawmakers hoped to achieve when they enacted caps on discretionary spending over three years ago.
Report on War Costs Since 9/11 (Congressional Research Service)
Pentagon Seeking 20 Percent Cut in U.S. War Funding to $51 Billion (Bloomberg)
Defense Expert Todd Harrison on Federal News Radio
Overseas Funding Request Includes Questionable Items (Concord Coalition)