Groups Urge Lawmakers to Reject OCO Plug for Pentagon

By Jonathan Nicholson

July 1 — A coalition of anti-federal spending and pro-peace groups sent a letter urging lawmakers to reject using the Overseas Contingency Operations fund to pay for day-to-day operations of the Pentagon.

The letter, sent June 30, came as the House is slated to consider the annual defense authorization bill (S. 2943) setting policy for the Pentagon in the week of July 4. House action on the bill would pave the way for a conference committee to be named to hammer out differences between House and Senate positions.

In the letter to the as-yet-unnamed conferees, the coalition said language in the House's own defense authorization bill (H.R. 4909) that would provide extra money for the Pentagon's base operating budget from the OCO fund should be jettisoned in any conference agreement. The groups said allowing OCO to be used that way would undo the Bipartisan Budget Act (Pub. L. No. 114-74) enacted in 2015.

“Increasing the Pentagon topline would lead to budget uncertainty by breaking the 2015 BBA which would create uncertainty and confusion in future Pentagon budgets. Pentagon planners expected two years of budget clarity; undermining that certainty jeopardizes national security,” the groups said.

‘Budget Crisis Point.'

Because OCO funds are not counted against the cap on defense-related appropriations in the law, using OCO to boost military spending has been attractive to lawmakers in the past, especially Republicans concerned that defense is underfunded. The White House has objected to the OCO use and the issue is likely to be a major sticking point in any talks to wrap up the fiscal 2017 appropriations process later in 2016 or in early 2017.

The list of organizations that signed the letter included several prominent groups that have historically urged less federal spending, such as the National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Republican Liberty Caucus. Peace advocacy groups listed on the letter include the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action and U.S. Labor Against the War.

In addition to urging future conferees to reject using OCO to boost regular Pentagon funding in the conference report, the groups also urged lawmakers to support language setting criteria for how OCO dollars may be used and to reject an April 2017 deadline for using OCO funds. On the latter issue, the groups wrote, “Setting an April 30, 2017 deadline for spending those dollars sets up an unnecessary budget crisis point next spring. It is also fiscally irresponsible because it doesn't allow the Pentagon to allocate funds as they are best needed to support our war efforts. Instead it requires the military services to ‘use it or lose it.' ”

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