The Republican-led Senate Employment Committee proposed a Pentagon spending bill of $696 billion for 2021, including $69 billion for a controversial fund for overseas war operations.
The Senate version of the Pentagon bill for fiscal 2021 includes $627 billion in defense spending, including billions to be siphoned off to finance President Donald Trump’s southern border wall. But it is the panel’s decision to allocate $68.7 billion to a little oversight war fund that could upset members of Congress from both parties. Since the establishment of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, the Department of Defense has absorbed about $2 trillion in taxpayer money. The Senate’s GOP proposal for fiscal 2021 is part of the larger $1.4 trillion spending bill.
The OCO fund was originally intended for “temporary and urgent needs” when it was set up after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But the Senate, which provides the majority of the GOP, is trying to continue funding the account 20 years later, which military and budget researchers have called the Pentagon’s “private bribery fund” to get what it wants.
Billions of dollars earmarked for special war-financing operations have disappeared in the past, but critics in Congress and even former President Barack Obama have failed to keep their pledge to stop the “misuse” of unrecorded war expenditures.
Instead of a gradual cut in the OCO budget, it has steadily increased and now accounts for about 20 percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget. Sean Kennedy, director of research for Citizens Against Government Waste, noted in October that if the OCO were considered a U.S. federal agency, it would be the fourth largest donor in the entire federal government.
In an October op-ed in Defense News entitled “Ending the Pentagon Bribery Fund,” it was stated that tax abuse was rampant and aimed at “inflating Defense Department spending beyond the basic budget and using it for purposes unrelated to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and military operations in other countries like Syria.
About 20 percent of the OCO is now used for “emergency funding purposes” that are outside the main budget of the Ministry of Defense. Despite the increase in spending on foreign operations, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump have insisted that all U.S. soldiers return from Afghanistan before Christmas.
Nevertheless, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said that Senate Democrats on Tuesday supported the proposal to “get the job done.
“By and large, these bills are the result of cross-party cooperation among members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As negotiations with the House of Representatives begin in earnest, I look forward to working with NitaLowey, SenatorLeahy and RepKayGranger to resolve our differences across party lines,” Shelby twittered on Tuesday.
The Democratic-led House already passed its own version of the $694 billion Pentagon spending bill in July. It included provisions for renaming bases named after Confederate leaders and had several provisions blocking additional DoD funds for Trump’s Mexican border wall.
Washington is currently operating under a stop-gap spending measure, a so-called rolling resolution that began last month and ends on December 11. As The Hill reported on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both expressed a desire to pass a massive bill on collection spending. The alternative would be to draft another short-term resolution to keep the government open.
Washington Newsday addressed the members of the Senate Committee and the Department of Defense on Tuesday afternoon with additional comments.