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Lawmakers Withhold Comment on $60B OCO Figure, Say More Specifics Needed

Jun. 26, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
US troops listen to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
US troops listen to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. (Mark Wilson / AFP)
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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Thursday mostly held fire on the White House’s coming $60 billion war-funding request, saying they have yet to be given ample details to comment.

Senate Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told CongressWatch on Thursday morning he will need to “see their justifications” before commenting on whether the $60 billion figure would be enough, or not, for overseas military operations next year.

Reed and other defense authorizers and appropriators said Thursday they intend to review the specifics of the request, vowing to build in enough time during a truncated election-year schedule to scrub it and make adjustments before final approval.

Defense News reported Wednesday evening that the White House and Pentagon are preparing a $60 billion overseas contingency request for the war in Afghanistan and other military operations abroad.

Most senior members of the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees declined comment or had little to say about the report.

An aide to House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., told CongressWatch his boss would have something to say “when we see the request.”

SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said he also wants to see the details about what the Obama administration intends to spend the OCO monies on.

“The number isn’t important, it’s what we should use it for,” Inhofe told reporters. “And what I think we should do is authorize where it should go … and how it should be used.”

The White House sent lawmakers a detailed document prior to releasing reams of justification materials, sources said.

House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., told CongressWatch in a statement late Thursday afternoon he wants to closely scrutinize the request.

“This $60 billion budget request for overseas operations is nearly five months late and cries out for oversight,” Frelinghuysen said. “In coming weeks, our Subcommittee will examine this proposal in detail to make sure it fully supports and protects our deployed warfighters.

“And, given the gains of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, continuing uncertainty in Afghanistan, growing chaos in Libya and terrorism rearing its head across the globe, our committee will expect answers,” he added.

Late Thursday afternoon, SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., issued a statement saying he supports “the president’s overseas contingency operation funding request.”

“In light of recent events in Iraq and Syria, this is appropriate spending,” Levin said. “The request includes $500 million to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian opposition, which closely matches language approved by a strong bipartisan majority on the Armed Services Committee during our consideration of the defense authorization bill.”

Just when the White House and Pentagon will submit the full OCO request is unclear, with sources on the Hill saying only they expect it “soon.”

The House and Senate Armed Services committees, as well as the House Appropriations Committee, moved forward with their bills without having the OCO request.

Inhofe said lawmakers “will make time” to scrub the request when it finally arrives and make adjustments to the administration’s spending proposals.

Some lawmakers have expressed frustration over the administration’s handling of the OCO request, saying it should have been delivered much sooner and not so long after the Pentagon’s budget request arrived earlier this year.

The $60 billion figure would be nearly $20 billion smaller than a $79.4 billion “placeholder” figure that was included with the administration’s 2015 Pentagon spending request.

The same OCO dollar amount was included by three of the four congressional defense committees in their annual military bills.

The heads of the House and Senate Appropriations committees have been working under the assumption the final OCO figure would be closer to the placeholder amount.

GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, in a brief interview with CongressWatch, suggested Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., might be miffed by the smaller figure.

“Have you talked with Mikulski about that?” Shelby asked the reporter on Thursday.

When the reporter replied “not yet” Shelby quipped with a wry grin: “Then I’m not saying anything.”

A Mikulski spokesman had not replied to a reporter’s inquiry by the time of publication. ■

Email: jbennett@defensenews.com.

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