Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had some harsh words Thursday for the House GOP’s proposed defense budget, which evades budget caps through placing a sizable amount into the virtually unlimited war fund.
During a speech delivered at the State Department’s Global Chiefs of Mission Conference, Carter, the first Defense Secretary to address the conference, said that lawmakers need to get their act together and lift the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Global Chiefs of Missions Conference gathers U.S. ambassadors from across the globe back in Washington, D.C. for a brief discussion on foreign policy priorities.
While the plan proposed by President Barack Obama comes in at roughly the same amount as the one proposed by the House, Obama’s budget moves base spending above caps to $561 billion, with only $51 billion allocated for the war fund.
The GOP, on the other hand, elected to keep the base level at $523 billion and slotted over $90 billion in the war fund, as a way to sneak around limits. On Friday, the House budget is expected to clear the Senate.
“Current proposals to shoehorn [the Pentagon’s] base budget funds into our contingency accounts would fail to solve the problem, while also undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning,” Carter said Thursday, The Hill reports.
Long-term planning is difficult under the House plan because the war fund, otherwise known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), fluctuates every year considerably. From 2001 to 2014, $71 billion was spent through the OCO.
The Pentagon allocated those funds to a variety of nonwar programs, including classified Air Force purchases, repairing surplus equipment in Iraq and Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, among other areas.
While the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) did try and limit the abuse of the OCO fund in 2009, an attempt which continued into 2014, the limits were not enshrined in law. OMB opted for a certain “understanding” to which the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House were supposed to abide. But since 2009, that understanding has sunk into irrelevancy, as last year, former Republican Rep. Buck McKeon integrated the idea of “readiness shortfalls” as fitting under the OCO’s mandate. McKeon’s phrasing appears to have been readily adopted during the 2016 sequestration debate.
President Barack Obama has rarely used his veto power during his presidency, but Carter reaffirmed that if Congress tries to pass a budget to Obama’s desk that doesn’t remove stringent budget caps, a veto will certainly be forthcoming. Instead of sliding funds into the OCO, Carter said that lawmakers should look to lower spending in other areas or make tax compromises.
“This is a time for statesmanship — a time for members of both parties to acknowledge the extraordinary turbulence in today’s world, and to come together behind a long-term budget that stands behind our strength and security as a nation,” Carter said, according to The Hill.
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