WASHINGTON — The third-ranking House Appropriations Committee Democrat says Congress and the White House are "careening" toward another government shutdown, adding a GOP-proposed defense spending plan is partly to blame.
Since President Barack Obama took office and Republicans captured control of the House, impasses over government spending, deficit reduction, government borrowing and healthcare reform have led Washington to flirt with agency and department shutdowns. In the fall of 2013, the federal government was shuttered for 16 days.
"While not a mirror image of two years ago," House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Ranking Member Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., warned Tuesday, "the FY-2016 process is careening towards a similar fate."
Central to what could be a major fight and another shutdown in late September is a proposed $88 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO) account. GOP leaders in both chambers inflated the administration's $50.9 billion war-fund request to appease Republican defense hawks who say the military is short on funding.
But the White House and congressional Democrats object, saying the move is a budget "gimmick." They also want more domestic spending in return.
But the two sides have yet to seriously discuss a legislative alternative to the Republican OCO plan, which is in both chambers' versions of the 2016 national defense authorization act (NDAA) and the House Appropriations Committee's 2016 military spending bill.
"Needless to say, I find this solution very troubling and not because I object to providing additional funding for the Department of Defense," Visclosky said Tuesday. "Agree with the commander in chief that sticking to the [Budget Control Act] caps on defense spending would necessitate our forces assume unacceptable risk in carrying out our National Defense Strategy."
"But at the same time, we need a strong nation as well as a strong defense," he said. "We cannot continue to let our country deteriorate with interstate bridges that collapse and kill our citizens, meaningful scientific research that atrophies, and a population whose educational attainment falls further and further behind.
The extra war funding is part of GOP defense authorization and spending bills that would adhere to defense budget caps included in the 2011 BCA. Obama has said he would veto any legislation that adheres to the cap, a White House tactic to get congressional Republicans and Democrats to begin discussing another bill to relieve the 2011 law's defense and domestic spending caps.
"If the president is true to his veto threat," Visclosky said, "then we are playing a serious game of brinksmanship with DoD and the rest of the federal government."