Armed Services Leaders Lament Lack of ‘Rational Choices’ on Budget Matters
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Four of the top leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees lamented Congress’ reliance on continuing resolutions (CRs) and the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to fund the military, and the spending limitations imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). But they offered no immediate solution to any of those problems.
Addressing a Nov. 15 forum supposedly focused on the Special Operations Forces, the leaders committee leaders agreed that SOF was under considerable strain from 15 years of an intensive operational tempo, but disagreed over whether the force needed more people and money.
Appearing separately, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry with ranking member Adam Smith, followed by Senate Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed with Sen. Joni Ernst, chair of the emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee, also praised the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that the two committees recently agreed on. But they could not say how they expected to get the $626 billion in base budget funding they adopted past the $549 billion limit set by the BCA.
On the positive side, the lawmakers’ collegial appearances at the session, sponsored by the New America Foundation and the Global SOF Foundation, demonstrated the two panels’ tradition of cooperation that has almost disappeared in the rest of Congress.
“In light of what’s happening in Congress, the armed services committee is the last bastion of bipartisanship,” Smith said.
Asked the same questions, both pairs said the overseas operations fund, which is not restricted by the BCA limits, has been misused to cover spending that should be in the base budget, but was required to get around the limits. None expressed any confidence that Congress would stop using OCO.
“We need to get away from OCO. But we need it now because of BCA. I think if we could get rid of BCA, we could get rid of OCO.” Ernst said. She noted that amendments were offered to eliminate BCA, but the leadership never allowed a vote on them.
The four similarly denounced Congress’ nine-year record of relying on CRs because it could not pass the required appropriations bills. But none suggested that the practice would stop.
“The fundamental problem is the amount of money we are willing to spend” against the greater list of problems, Smith said. “We are not making rational choices on spending and revenues. ... I don’t see how this ends. I don’t know what happens when Dec. 8 comes,” he said, referring to when the current CR expires.
All four lawmakers said the SOF personnel and their families were under stress because of the constant deployments since 9/11.
“I do worry about the overuse of SOF. … They are increasingly the force of choice, because they are so effective,” Thornberry said. “I worry about what is going on with the families.”
But Thornberry said he thought the 70,000 personnel and the $10.6 billion budget for SOF was probably enough.
Smith said he did not know if SOF needed more people and money, saying he needed better feedback from the force.
Both Reed and Ernst, however, said they believed SOF needed to be bolstered.
“I think we need to increase both the force and funding. … I see this mission increasing,” Reed said.