Fiscal Conservatives Criticize Latest War Spending Gimmick

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This week 17 fiscally conservative groups urged Congress to drop an artificial spending deadline for war funding included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provision, included in the House’s version of the bill but not the Senate’s, requires the Pentagon to spend $35.7 billion authorized for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account by April 30, 2017.

The OCO account, which is supposed to support our troops fighting overseas, has regularly been used as a slush fund for Congress and the Pentagon to pay for favorite programs. This deadline is the latest effort to abuse this fund  and is particularly reckless since it aims to trigger the need for the next President to ask for an additional supplemental bill to make up the shortfall. Rather than making sure that funds are appropriately spent to support our troops overseas, the deadline encourages an irresponsible use-it-or-lose it mentality.

“This deadline for spending those dollars sets up an unnecessary budget crisis for the next president,” the groups wrote. “This provision clearly is intended to be used as a cudgel to abandon fiscal discipline.”

The letter, which included Taxpayers for Common Sense, National Taxpayers Union, Freedom Works, and Americans for Prosperity, echoes concerns POGO and others raised in a bipartisan letter to NDAA conferees last month.

Even the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that supports increased Pentagon spending, has criticized the use of OCO to circumvent Pentagon base spending caps as a “tactic [that] will actually jeopardize our military.” Its sister organization, Heritage Action, has argued that the latest gimmick “leaves House Republicans open to attacks that they are shortchanging our troops in the field in order to increase [spending] for the Pentagon” since the House Armed Services Committee’s proposal “effectively shortchanges ongoing overseas operations.”

Taxpayers and our troops deserve better than these gimmicks. We hope Congress drops this artificial deadline in its final bill.

Photograph of Mandy Smithberger

By: Mandy Smithberger, Director, CDI Straus Military Reform Project

Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

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