Senators Should Oppose NDAA OCO Gimmicks

As the Senate continues to consider S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, NTU urges all Senators to vote “NO” on the McCain (R-AZ) Amendment #4229 and Reed (D-RI)/Mikulski (D-MD) Amendment #4549 to #4229. These amendments would increase spending far above the thresholds agreed to in the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Agreement.

Senator McCain’s Amd. #4229 would authorize approximately $18 billion in increased spending in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, primarily to underwrite the Pentagon’s “unfunded priorities” (a procurement wish-list not included in the budget request) that belong in the base budget. This is a blatant gimmick intended to circumvent the spending restraint originally imposed in the now twice-modified 2011 Budget Control Act by misusing what was intended to be an emergency fund for unanticipated overseas activities.

NTU has consistently opposed this tactic, which allows Congress to avoid prioritizing and reducing wasteful spending in the Department of Defense (DOD) base budget account. Amendment #4229 perpetuates the exploitation of the OCO as a slush fund by authorizing funding for things that are neither “overseas” nor “contingency,” as further advised by the Office of Management and Budget in a 2010 memo. The improper authorizations under OCO include six additional F-35s, one additional Littoral Combat Ship, $23 million for a vehicle maintenance shop at Fort Belvoir, VA, $6.9 million for a fire station at Fort Leonard Wood, MO and more.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, misusing OCO opens the door to additional attempts at overspending. This is best illustrated by Amd. #4549, a second-degree amendment which would ratify the $18 billion plus-up in underlying Amd. #4229, as well as increase nondefense budget authority by $18 billion for a total of $36 billion in additional spending. Providing funds for responding to the Zika virus, reducing opioid abuse, and increasing resources for the Transportation Security Administration are among the stated purposes of this amendment.

Senators shouldn’t be surprised that attempts to increase defense spending over and above previously agreed-to limits will be met with similar efforts to increase nondefense spending in order to preserve the parity model established in the Budget Control Act and re-affirmed last fall. Past tampering with the caps early in legislative year have repeatedly yielded the same result: increased spending across the board.

These amendments, both together and individually, pose a threat to any pretense of fiscal responsibility and set the stage for yet another budget-busting deal that taxpayers can ill afford.

Roll call votes on the above amendments to S. 2943 will be significantly weighted in our annual Rating of Congress and “NO” votes will be considered the pro-taxpayer positions.

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