Defense Appropriations and the Slippery Slope of War Spending

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The Senate Defense appropriators have made a good first step towards returning discipline to the defense budget in their mark for FY 2012. According to Sen. Inouye, DOD will have the same resources for FY 2012 they had for FY 2011, zero budget growth, or a flat line. This confirms what DOD still needs to acknowledge fully – we are in a defense build down, similar to the four previous defense build downs we have experienced since the end of the Second World War.

But there is an asterisk, there often is, in what the appropriators have done. According to Sen. Inouye, the committee found $6.6 billion in war spending that was not needed – due to troop reductions in Afghanistan and a lower funding need for Afghan Security Forces. Now these are funds that are normally provided through the separate, war spending account, known as OCO (for Overseas Contingency Operations).

But at the same time, the appropriators provided the full $117.8 billion the administration requested for OCO. Meaning the committee slid something out of the base budget into the OCO account that was not previously requested as part of war costs. Or to put it another way, watch out for a bit of budgetary legerdemain here, similar to what previous Congress’ have done – putting non-war costs into the war budget when you can’t fund them in the base defense budget.

We will have to see what slid over into OCO on Thursday. But it is a dangerous budgetary practice and a relaxation of the otherwise splendid budget discipline the committee began. We should not go down that slippery slope.