Senate DOD Funding Bill Kicks Budget Gimmick Habit

The Senate could begin consideration of S. 3000, the FY17 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act, as soon as today. Taxpayers were told it couldn’t be done, still the Senate Appropriations Committee did the impossible: they reported out a defense spending bill that avoids budget gimmicks and makes modest spending cuts in order to fund additional spending for other priorities. Defense News reports:

The bill, as passed in the Appropriations Defense subcommittee on Tuesday, recommended more than 450 specific budget cuts totaling $15.1 billion and reallocates that money to buy items on the services’ “unfunded priorities” lists, according to a committee fact sheet.

Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MI), Vice Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Defense Subcommittee Ranking Member Richard Durbin (D-IL), as well as other members of the Defense Subcommittee are to be commended for doing the hard work of tough decision-making that responsible budgeting requires.

NTU might disagree with the advisability of using these savings for unfunded priorities off the Pentagon’s “wish list,” including four F-35s and an additional Littoral Combat Ship over and above those requested by DOD. However, Senate Appropriators deserve a lot of credit for complying with budget limits and finding the means to pay for these plus-ups without raiding the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account (unlike their House counterparts).

In contrast with the House-passed defense authorization and appropriation bills, S. 3000 does not shift base-budget spending to the off-budget OCO account and it shuns the all-but-guaranteed April 30, 2017 budget crisis flashpoint. The legislation has other provisions to recommend it as well:

  • Numerous commonsense policies that could reduce wasteful spending (such as Section 8004, which prevents wasteful spending under “use it or lose it” conditions)
  • No prohibition on a new round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) (that would help the Pentagon alleviate their 22 percent excess capacity and achieve savings)
  • No coal earmark
  • Less overall funding for unrequested items (Taxpayers for Common Sense has the full list here)

Of course S. 3000 is not without its flaws. Notably, Sections 8024 and 8037 maintain protectionist policies that impede the Pentagon’s ability to pursue cost-savings and efficiencies to ensure the best value for taxpayers - and service members. Similarly, an amendment to expedite procurement of the UH-1N replacement helicopters could disrupt the Air Force’s current, and laudable, plan to proceed with an open competition. Ironically, the competition might be completed far before this attempt to derail the process becomes law.

Still, S. 3000 demonstrates that budget restraint is possible and can be done on a bipartisan basis. Taxpayers hope that should the legislation make it through the Senate, this sensible course of action will serve as a template when the bill goes to conference or is subsumed in a larger spending package. In doing so, Congress can chart a course now that prevents a budget crisis – and yet more unaffordable spending – down the road.