US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second from right, arrives to speak to US troops at the Kandahar air base in December. (Agence France-Presse)
WASHINGTON — A key US House member warned Thursday the Obama administration’s withholding of a war-funding request could hinder passage of the chamber’s 2015 military spending bill.
Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, took umbrage with a decision by Pentagon brass and White House budget officials to send Congress only a $79 billion “placeholder” figure for a new overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget blueprint.
A final OCO topline and details of what kinds of items that spending plan would propose to buy is on hold as Obama administration officials continue so-far fruitless efforts to secure a security pact with senior Afghan leaders. The agreement is needed to keep some number of US and NATO forces there beyond 2014 to perform counterinsurgency operations and support indigenous forces.
But outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the pact. That means Washington likely will have to wait until later this year to convince Karzai’s successor to sign it.
The outcome of the security agreement drama will determine whether any US forces are there next year, and help officials shape the final size and contents of the war-funding request.
The problem, Visclosky told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, is that lawmakers might not be able to wait that long.
“It would be impossible for us to go to the floor with a placeholder for $79 billion,” Visclosky said.
The Democratic member called out the White House, saying it “has got to understand there’s some urgency with regard to the appropriations process.”
Meantime, Visclosky also put the Pentagon leaders on notice they are unlikely to receive an additional $26 billion — on top of their $496 billion 2015 request — they want next year.
Pentagon officials say the White House in coming weeks will send Congress a $58 billion wish list featuring defense and domestic programs it wants funded, but did not include in the president’s 2015 federal spending plan. It will include a $26 billion request for the Pentagon.
But, echoing other Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the HAC-D ranking member bluntly said: I do not think [it] is gonna happen.”
That’s largely for political reasons.
The $58 billion wish list will contain White House proposals for new federal revenues and spending on domestic programs to allow it to comply with spending caps. Republicans, who control the House, oppose both things.
Analysts like the Stimson Center’s Gordon Adams say the $58 billion package is doomed in the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, where he says it would fail to get 60 votes to break a filibuster threat.
Lawmakers say, of all its controversial 2015 budget proposals, the Pentagon likely is in store for its biggest fight over the $26 billion wish list.
“I think perhaps the real focus is going to be on that additional fund,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said last week.
“The recent budget agreement … prohibited taxing and spending,” Senate Budget Committee’s Ranking Member Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Defense News last week. “The president should comply with the law. Surely, it would be astounding that eight weeks after signing Ryan-Murray, he would propose to bust it. Astounding.”