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July 19 — Getting the accounting-challenged Pentagon to clean up its books is a rare point of bipartisan agreement, at least according to the Democratic and Republican parties' official platforms for 2016.
Republicans adopted their platform—a 62-page nonbinding statement of the party's official stances on a variety of issues—at their party convention in Cleveland July 18. The convention is set to end July 21 with Donald Trump formally accepting the party's presidential nomination.
Neither party had language on the issue in their 2012 platforms, though the 2012 and 2016 Republican documents included separate language calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve central bank, in addition to its regular audits by the Government Accountability Office.
“No major part of the Department of Defense has ever passed an audit. Republican leaders in Congress have called for a full financial audit of the Pentagon to ensure that every dollar spent is truly benefitting our national security,” the Republican platform said. “Every taxpayer must be prepared to pass an audit, and we urge Congress to demand the same level of accountability from the Pentagon and the Department of Defense.”
The passage in the Democratic platform—the draft of which was approved by the party platform committee in Orlando, Fla., July 9 ahead of the July 25-28 convention—is smaller than the Republican one, but echoes the same sentiment.
“As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the conclusion of long-term nation-building with large military footprints, we will continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems and ensure our security with a more agile and more flexible force. At the same time, we must end waste in the defense budget, which is an abuse of taxpayer dollars,” the Democratic platform said. “That is why we will audit the Pentagon, launch a high-level commission to review the role of defense contractors, and take greater action against those who have been involved in fraud.”
The Pentagon has long been criticized for its inability to get its books in order. The GAO, in disclaiming any opinion about the reliability of the annual federal financial report compiled by the Treasury Department, regularly cites the Defense Department as a main reason it cannot sign off on the report (See previous story, 04/07/16).
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has also been critical of the Pentagon, noting it is the only department covered by the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 to never receive a clean audit.
“The 25-year push to audit the books is stuck at a roadblock. Billions of dollars have been spent trying to solve the root cause problem, but the fix is nowhere in sight. And until it is, auditing the books will remain an elusive goal,” Grassley said in a Senate floor speech July 7.
Lawmakers have tried to prod the Defense Department to make more progress. An amendment to the annual House defense authorization bill (H.R. 4909) called for a report ranking each of the military branches by how close they are to achieving a successful audit. It was adopted on a voice vote.
Elsewhere in the Republican platform, the party again endorsed a balanced budget constitutional amendment. “The Republican path to fiscal sanity and economic expansion begins with a constitutional requirement for a federal balanced budget. We will fight for Congress to adopt, and for the states to ratify, a Balanced Budget Amendment which imposes a cap limiting spending to the appropriate historical average percentage of our nation’s gross domestic product while requiring a super-majority for any tax increase, with exceptions only for war or legitimate emergencies,” the platform said.
Unlike the 2012 Republican platform, the 2016 document does not call for overhauling the federal budget process or making immediate cuts in federal spending. “Backed by a Republican Senate and House, our next President will propose immediate reductions in federal spending, as a down payment on the much larger task of long-range fiscal control,” the 2012 document said. Instead, the 2016 document says, “Republican budgets will prioritize thrift over extravagance and put taxpayers first.”
Like the 2012 platform, the 2016 one also endorses moving Medicare to an opt-in premium support model, where recipients can use federal dollars to shop for private insurance. However, that position has not been endorsed by Trump, whose campaign website's health care proposals make no mention of Medicare changes.
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