Congress Shouldn’t Create a New Pentagon Slush Fund

It’s been a strange, complicated year for Congressional decision making on the Pentagon budget. First came the debt ceiling agreement, where Congress rolled back domestic programs but left the Biden administration’s $886 billion request for national defense untouched. Now, final passage of the main bill authorizing Pentagon spending – the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – is hung up on culture war debates rather than debates about the hundreds of billions in expenditures at stake in the legislation.

But the biggest fight over the Pentagon budget is yet to come.. Hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-AL, have argued that the current proposal of $886 billion in military spending for Fiscal Year 2024 is not enough. Instead, they are advocating for an emergency package that could arrive in Congress as early as later this month that would give them the opportunity to add tens of billions of dollars for the Pentagon beyond what is already contemplated.

On the flip side, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, ever mindful of commitments he made to Freedom Caucus members in exchange for his appointment, has said that it is “not time” for an emergency package for the Pentagon.

Even given these complexities, there will almost certainly be an effort to boost the Pentagon budget, likely tied to a new aid package to Ukraine. This would be reminiscent of what was done from from 2011 to 2020, when Congress and the Pentagon used the war budget – officially known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO) – to fund hundreds of billions of dollars of Pentagon programs that had nothing to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. OCO essentially served as a safety valve – a slush fund – to evade upper limits on the Pentagon budget established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Read the full piece in Tribune News Service.