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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

House GOP budget bloats military spending



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The House GOP budget will propose raising the Pentagon’s war funding account next year to about $90 billion, Budget Committee member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters late Monday.

“It'll go up from this year and considerably up from where the president's budget is at,” Cole said the night before the Budget panel is set to unveil the full spending plan.

To account for that increase, he explained, “There will be considerable offsets on the non-discretionary side of the budget.” 

The provision caters to defense hawks in the House who have blasted sequestration budget ceilings that are set to return in October. If Congress takes no action to change a 2011 law, the Pentagon’s fiscal 2016 budget is set to revert to the $523 billion spending cap.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Monday that Congress could propose using the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund to make up for the lower defense spending in the base budget. The OCO account has funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is being used for operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In December, Congress passed a spending package that included $64 billion for OCO this year. Due to the planned U.S. drawdown for military operations in Afghanistan, President Obama’s budget asked Congress to approve only $51 billion in OCO funding for next year.

Cole said he supports the GOP’s proposal, which comes out Tuesday morning.

Some lawmakers have blasted the Pentagon’s use of OCO, dubbing it a “slush fund,” but Cole rejected the idea that using it to raise defense spending is a gimmick.

"Well, it's not a gimmick. I think war is very difficult to calculate overseas,” Cole said.
When across-the-board cuts hit government agencies in 2013, the Pentagon used OCO as a way to make up for cuts in its base budget.

Cole suggested, however, that the House GOP’s budget blueprint is not the end game for spending levels next year.

“I look at budgets as opening negotiating positions,” he said. “I think it's the next logical step toward eventually reaching a budget negotiation toward the end of the year…I think that's going to be another Ryan-Murray type negotiation probably later in the year.”

In December 2013, then-Budget Committee Chairmen Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) struck a deal that relieved sequestration for two years.

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