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NTU Urges House to Reject Budget Busting Pentagon Spending Bill

by Nan Swift / /

NTU urges all Representatives to vote “NO” on H.R. 5293, the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act. By relying on budget gimmicks to fund unnecessary spending that will deliberately trigger higher expenditures further into the fiscal year, this legislation exacerbates our growing fiscal crisis and undercuts our service members overseas.

NTU has consistently opposed manipulating Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds as a means to avoid prioritization and the reduction of wasteful spending in the DOD base budget account. Congress has increasingly used this “slush fund” to pay for things that are neither “overseas” nor “contingency.”

H.R. 5293 takes these accounting shenanigans a step further by imposing an arbitrary deadline for use of OCO funds, thereby triggering the need for supplemental funding in April 2017 (practically coinciding with the next debt limit crisis). This manufactured “crisis” will likely result in an emergency budget deal that increases spending across the board.

The legislation shifts approximately $16 billion from OCO to the base budget, once again subverting the intent of the 2011 Budget Control Act’s spending restraint, to pay for “unfunded requirements” that were not requested in the Pentagon’s budget. These include eleven additional F-35s and a Littoral Combat Ship. Both systems have been plagued with significant problems and Congress should buy fewer, not more of them, at least not until their strategic roles are clearly defined and many other issues are resolved.

In addition to these serious budgetary concerns, once again the annual DOD appropriations bill misses significant opportunities to reduce waste and pursue potential savings. For example, perhaps out of habit, the bill prohibits the Pentagon from embarking on a 2019 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (despite a recent Pentagon report claiming 22 percent excess base capacity).

H.R. 5293 is more of the same for taxpayers – and an economy – in urgent need of spending relief. Following through with the funding scheme in this legislation will certainly set the stage for another budget deal where taxpayers will once again be on the losing side.

Still, lawmakers have the opportunity to improve on the underlying legislation and to that end, NTU urges Representatives to vote “YES” on the following amendments to H.R. 5293:

  • #13, Quigley (D-IL), Blumenauer (D-OR), Garamendi (D-CA), Polis (D-CO), & Smith (D-WA): This amendment would save taxpayers more than $75 million by decreasing funding for the Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO). With major nuclear modernization costs looming on the horizon, legislators should not fully fund this new program when major questions about cost and strategic role remain unanswered.

  • #16, O’Rourke (D-TX): This amendment would strike Section 8121, which prevents the use of funds for a future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, allowing the DoD to proceed with plans to consolidate or close unnecessary U.S. installations. An April Pentagon report requested that Congress permit a new round of BRAC in order to achieve savings and alleviate the military’s 22 percent excess capacity.

  • #17, Huffman (D-CA) & McClintock (R-CA): This amendment would strike language in the underlying bill requiring the Air Force to use a domestically-produced energy source as the base load energy for heating at the Kaiserslautern, Germany defense installations. This requirement limits the Pentagon’s options and requires shipping an energy-input across the Atlantic, despite the availability of potentially competitive fuel sources from Germany or Poland. Any savings that could be achieved by finding a more local source for coal or upgrading the heating system to accommodate other fuel, are worth investigating.

  • #20, Duncan (R-TN): This amendment would save taxpayers $448,715,000 by reducing the funding level for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has raised significant questions regarding transparency and oversight of this account.

  • #21, Sanford (R-SC), Brat (R-VA), & Hastings (D-FL): This amendment would preserve the cash voucher system currently used to allow new recruits to purchase their preferred running shoes. The House and Senate NDAA bills attempt to permanently expand the misguided “Berry Amendment” to include athletic footwear, which only the New Balance company can provide, restricting service peoples’ choices and creating a new source of corporate welfare.

  • #28, Mulvaney (R-SC): This amendment would prohibit the use of OCO funds found in Title IX from being spent on non-contingency operation functions as defined by the United States Code. Limiting the use of OCO to its original intent would help prevent the inclination to misuse it as a slush fund or “release valve” to avoid complying with budget caps. In addition, OCO’s lack of transparency limits accountability to Congress and taxpayers.

  • #48, McSally (R-AZ), McCollum (D-MN), & Pearce (R-NM): This amendment would limit the DOD use of funds for musical military units to perform in an official capacity for certain entertainment purposes. Military bands do not play a clear role in our national defense and limiting or reducing funding in order to pay for strategic priorities is a more fiscally responsible course of action than increased borrowing and budget gimmicks. Reducing spending for military bands was a recommended area for deficit reduction in the joint NTU/U.S. Public Interest Research Group “Toward Common Ground” report.

  • #50, Polis (D-CO) & Lee (D-CA): This amendment would reduce the base Department of Defense (DOD) budget by one percent, excluding military, reserve, and National Guard personnel, and the Defense Health Program. This modest reduction would help prioritize spending and reduce waste.

Roll call votes on the underlying bill, H.R. 5293, will be included in our annual Rating of Congress and a “NO” vote will be considered the pro-taxpayer position. In addition, roll call votes on the above amendments to H.R. 5293 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress and a “YES” vote will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.

If you have any questions, please contact NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift at (703) 683-5700