The House this week will take up a massive Armed Services Committee-approved Pentagon policy bill that would add billions to a list of Defense Department weapon programs and keep alive some targeted for cuts by the services. The panel's measure proposes a $495.9 billion base Pentagon budget and an $89.2 billion war account, also called the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund. What's more, it proposes keeping alive the Air Force's A-10 attack plane fleet and endorses extra funding for additional F/A-18 Boeing-made and F-35B Lockheed Martin-made fighter jets for the Navy and Marine Corps. It also authorizes an OCO account with $38 billion more than the administration equested to offset defense spending caps.
Issue: OCO Shrinkage?
Background: Defense hawks in both chambers made noise about withholding support for Republican-crafted budget resolutions unless more military spending was included. GOP leaders in both chambers responded by clearing their Budget Committee leaders to swell the Obama administration's requested OCO amount ($50.9 billion) by tens of billions. A House-Senate compromise version of the budget blueprint included a final war fund of $89 billion. The defense caucus still doesn't love the idea of offsetting annual spending caps with off-book dollars, but they say the compromise is better than nothing. And HASC's 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was crafted with the $89 billion amount.
What To Watch: An alliance of right- and left-leaning House members is expected to continue its attacks on the Pentagon's war account when the chamber takes up the annual defense policy bill next week. A few weeks back, this partnership of Republican deficit hawks and liberal Democrats forced House leaders to pull a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill over an OCO amendment offered by the group. The leaders of the right-left alliance, Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., say the extra OCO dollars won't be used for actual war-related items. Watch for the duo to lobby their colleagues hard to support amendments that would shrink the bill's authorized war fund level.
Issue: Arms to Iraq
Background: US lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, voicing support for Washington to get weapons to Kurdish forces is not news. But a full committee proposing to anger Iraq's other ethnic factions by bypassing the central government in Baghdad and directly arming the country's Kurdish and Sunni forces certainly is. And that's just what HASC wants. A provision in its NDAA would authorize the defense secretary to provide $715 million to Iraq's central government. The same section would "require that not less than 25 percent of such funds be expended for direct assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard."
What To Watch: The language is not sitting well with Iraq's mostly Shiite government. Nor with Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — remember him? So some senior US House members are talking about altering the language on the Senate floor. "I think there is a way to streamline the process of getting the weapons to both the Sunni tribes and the Peshmerga, where it is desperately needed to defeat [the Islamic State group], while at the same time not undermining the government of Iraq in Baghdad," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told The Associated Press after visiting Baghdad and meeting with Iraqi officials. This could cause fireworks during floor debate, and America's biggest Shiite foe in the region, Iran, certainly will be brought up. The arms transfers would be good for US companies, so keep an eye on the final arms-to-Iraq language.