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House passes spending bill with $572B for Pentagon

Jan. 15, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
A House-approved spending measure includes $85 billion in war-funding.
A House-approved spending measure includes $85 billion in war-funding. (Army)
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WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday approved a mammoth spending bill that funds the Pentagon and America’s overseas conflicts through Sept. 30. The vote tally was 359-67.

The omnibus spending measure easily breezed to passage in the lower chamber, making $572 billion in Pentagon appropriations one step closer to becoming reality. The measure, which contains an $85 billion war-funding measure and $487 billion in baseline defense dollars, now moves to the Senate.

The current government-funding bill expires at midnight, but both chambers are slated to enact a three-day continuing resolution before then. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday the upper chamber will begin debating the omnibus almost immediately after it has been delivered from the House.

Lawmakers, congressional aides, and insiders expect the Senate will approve it before the three-day CR expires on Saturday.

The omnibus includes a full 2014 Pentagon appropriations measure that would provide nearly $93 billion to buy new weapons.

The Defense Department would get $63 billion for research and development (R&D) projects, an area senior officials have warned isn’t funded enough. That is almost $7 billion less than the department got in 2013.

The White House had asked for $99.3 billion for Pentagon procurement, and $67.5 billion for R&D.

For weapons programs, the Pentagon appropriations section of the bill contains few surprises. For the most part, it’s a rubber stamp for the Obama administration’s spending and force-structure whims.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees included $5 billion more for America’s overseas conflicts than requested by the White House.

Included in the $85 billion war-funding section, also called the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget, is more than $6 billion in procurement funds spread across the Defense Department.

“It appears Congress used the OCO loophole to increase the base defense budget without breaching the budget caps they just agreed to,” said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“The cuts from [operations and maintenance accounts] and procurement in the base budget were largely offset by corresponding increases in the OCO budget, which doesn’t count against the budget caps,” he said. “This is nothing new — Congress and DoD have been using this tactic to soften the impact of budget constraints for several years now.”

Congressional hawks, Pentagon officials and industry titans are welcoming the spending bill as a guarantor of stability for the defense sector — for one year at least. But not everyone is impressed, especially with all the procurement dollars stuffed into the war-funding section.

A coalition of nearly 30 watchdog and anti-war groups, in a statement issued Tuesday, said, “Congress and the Pentagon are using the OCO as a ‘slush fund’ to pad the department’s budget and avoid spending reductions.” The groups say Congress “should not be artificially increasing the Pentagon’s budget with accounting tricks, but should instead be targeting wasteful and unnecessary spending.”

And Stan Collender, a longtime Washington-based budget analyst, wrote in a Wednesday blog post that the 1,500-plus-page omnibus — released at 8 p.m. EST on Monday — is simply too large for members to have a clue what’s in it.

“The House is voting on a multi-hundred page bill that it has only had a chance to review for one and a half days,”’ Collender wrote. “This is the same House that made the inability to review the Obamacare legislation a major issue. Because of its length and the limited amount of time they have to review it, House members cannot possibly know what they are voting on.”

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