National Taxpayers Union Vote Alert
NTU urges all Representatives to vote “NO” on H.R. 4909, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2017. Even though the bill’s advertised “top line” price tag appears to be just slightly lower than that of last year’s legislation, H.R. 4909 has been consciously designed to trigger higher expenditures further into the fiscal year. By relying on budget gimmicks to fund unnecessary spending, 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 Department of Defense (DOD) base budget account. Congress has increasingly used this “slush fund” to pay for things that are neither “overseas” nor “contingency” such as replacing a V-22 Osprey destroyed in a domestic training exercise or construction of a hangar in Italy.
H.R. 4909 takes these accounting shenanigans a step further by deliberately underfunding OCO by $18 billion, thereby triggering the need for supplemental funding in April 2017. From the very inception of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and despite several revisions since then, defense hawks have claimed that budget caps have threatened our “readiness.” Regardless of the veracity of this debatable notion, taxpayers should be skeptical of utilizing the account purportedly aimed at “readiness” in order to pay for “unfunded requirements” – in other words, Pentagon “extras” that were not requested. 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 until their strategic roles are clearly defined and many other issues are resolved.
Moreover, H.R. 4909 plans to prorate funding for warfighters on the front lines, thus forcing a future supplemental “emergency” spending package and subsequent budget deal. Typically, emergency supplementals have not been paid for, and in the current budget climate, political gridlock will most likely render it necessary to increase non-defense discretionary spending, once again subverting any attempt at spending restraint.
In addition to these serious budgetary concerns, as in previous authorization legislation, H.R. 4909 misses many opportunities to reduce waste and pursue potential savings. For example, 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) and ignores recommendations to close domestic commissaries. Taxpayers are likewise dismayed by Section 808, a de facto earmark for New Balance sneakers. This type of corporate welfare, often enabled by the Berry Amendment, can increase costs for taxpayers and is ripe for reform.
Instead, H.R. 4909 is more of the same for taxpayers – and an economy – in urgent need of spending relief. Implementing the policies of H.R. 4909 will certainly set the stage for another budget deal where taxpayers will once again be on the losing side.
In any responsible evaluation of legislation, it is important to take account not only of the spending immediately at stake but also the longer-term fiscal impact. Therefore, roll call votes on H.R. 4909 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress and a “NO” vote will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.