Vote to Gut Budget Caps Sets Dangerous Precedent

NTU urges all Representatives to vote “NO” on H.R. 695, the Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act. Despite having had ample time to craft a bill that funds the DOD at a level that complies with the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, this legislation moves us further down a fiscally unsustainable path.

At $35 billion over the BCA’s defense discretionary budget cap, H.R. 695 rarely misses an opportunity to increase spending. More than $23 billion is appropriated over and above the Pentagon’s FY18 request. $10 billion of an already bloated $75 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending is intended for base budget priorities.

In the past, the OCO account has been used as a workaround for the BCA’s caps. However, Section 1008 dispenses with this accounting fiction by eliminating the BCA’s sequester for defense spending. Ostensibly, this removes the incentive to plus-up the OCO account or misuse supposed “contingency” related funds for base budget needs. If H.R. 695 was really about providing funding for strategically necessary outlays, appropriators could have simply added another $35 billion to OCO. Instead, Section 1008 makes this bill a proxy vote on the BCA.

The BCA caps have achieved significant savings to the tune of $7,400 per household, so far, and successfully put spending on a new trajectory that will continue to accrue savings over the baseline in years to come.

To reject the tool - the law - that imposed the fiscal discipline Congress could not otherwise accomplish is a troubling step in the wrong direction. Increased spending and debt will undermine Congress’ biggest victory of 2017, tax reform, by potentially requiring higher taxes in the future.

Before legislators vote to nullify any part of the BCA, they should, at a minimum, offset additional spending to keep the promise to taxpayers of more than $1 trillion in savings. Significant savings could be achieved even within the DOD if H.R. 695 didn’t prohibit the next round of Base Realignment and Closures, fund hundreds of millions of dollars in wasteful research unrelated to national security, and require cost-driving protectionist policies.

Only a few months ago our national debt soared to the new record high of $20 trillion, and without urgent action, it could rise even further in the very near future. In 2012, when former Admiral Mike Mullen stated that our growing debt was the greatest threat to our national security, the national debt stood at a “mere” $16.3 trillion. H.R. 695 ignores this dire warning and increases the risk to our security, economy, and the growth expected from tax reform.

This latest attempt to dismantle the BCA’s modest caps only reinforces the need for bold reforms and bolder action to curb the constant appetite for more spending. Eliminating the defense discretionary cap without commensurate cuts and budget reforms elsewhere sets a dangerous precedent for the government funding fights ahead.

Roll call votes on H.R. 695 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress and a “NO” vote will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.