The Defense Appropriations Act of FY2014 (H.R. 2397) is one of the most important spending bills passed through Congress each year—naturally many members of Congress want to weigh in by offering amendments to the base bill. Usually they want to increase spending—often to satisfy special interests in their home districts. But this year there are more opportunities to cut unnecessary spending than there has been in a very long time.
Yesterday, the Project On Government Oversight raised concerns that the powerful House Committee on Rules and House leadership might squelch debate and restrict votes on many of the 180 amendments offered on the bill. However, we were pleasantly surprised that for the most part, leadership listened to us and others calling for fair opportunities for amendments. While not open, as it usually is, the structured rule that the House Rules Committee released late last night was not the stifling rule we expected. Instead, it provides an opportunity for a range of votes on sensible savings in the Pentagon budget (it also allows votes on Syria, Egypt, and national surveillance despite those being the controversial issues that apparently first led the Rules Committee to threaten a closed or structured rule).
Several amendments are supported and opposed jointly by our ideologically diverse partners in reining in profligate spending at the Pentagon. Those partners joined in a letter we sent up to the Hill in advance of votes this afternoon. In it, we ask Congress to support smart spending amendments and to vote against provisions that would thwart Pentagon efforts to close outdated programs, cut unwanted systems, and otherwise deal with sequestration and deficit reduction.
The letter outlines the need for defense spending cuts in stark terms:
The current bill appropriates $512.5 billion for the Department of Defense ($28.1 billion above the current level caused by spending cuts) and $85.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations ($1.5 billion more than the Pentagon’s request). Whether or not one supports those caps, it is irresponsible to continue to ignore current law and set our country on the path towards yet another sequestration this fall.
The following amendments are supported by POGO and our partners from the conservative National Taxpayers Union to the progressive USAction (to learn more about these and the amendments our groups oppose, please read our letter to House members): Amendments 14, 20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 36, 55, 84, and 96. Amendments we oppose are: Amendments 39, 40, 65, 86, and 89.
In addition, POGO supports several other smart spending cuts in addition to the amendments listed in the letter:
- Amendment #47, sponsored by Representative Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), cuts funds from the Trans Regional Web Initiative (TRWI), a contractor operated military information support operations program that develops news websites aimed to counter violent extremism. The program lacks meaningful performance metrics and a GAO report found the websites to have the “potential to unintentionally skew U.S. policy positions or be out of step with other U.S. government efforts in a particular country.” The Senate has already cut the TRWI from the current version of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1197) for these reasons.
- Amendment #15, sponsored by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), reduces funding for the Ohio-class submarines by 10 percent to help prepare the Department of Defense for the sequestration. There is a declining need for U.S. ballistic missile submarines such as the Ohio-class model, and cutting the funding by 10 percent appropriately reflects this decline.
- Amendment #46, sponsored by Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), addresses another leg of the nuclear triad. This amendment limits funds made available in the bill to operate and maintain no more than 300 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, a reduction from 450 missiles. A large nuclear arsenal is no longer required to keep our nation safe—we can’t afford to keep more than we need.
In addition to the amendments the groups oppose, POGO opposes this amendment that would prevent the Pentagon from finding savings:
Amendment #66, sponsored by Representative Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), prohibits funds from being used to implement an enrollment fee in the TRICARE for Life program, a reform we welcome as a step to making the expensive TRICARE system more affordable.
We thank the members of Congress who offered these and other proposals for sensible savings we support. The bipartisan consensus to rein in runaway Pentagon spending is growing. As the House begins consideration of these amendments, we hope to see many votes for proposals to increase our economic and national security by reducing wasteful spending at the Pentagon.