The spending caps imposed under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) will continue to play an oversized role in shaping Pentagon spending after a new administration captures the White House, a defense budget expert said Tuesday.
“The BCA is probably the biggest challenge that the next administration faces, not just for defense, because it’s for the non-defense side of the budget as well,” Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters.
Passing spending bills almost certainly will require the new president and Congress to reach a deal to adjust the budget limits, as has occurred three times since the BCA was enacted. And Democrats can be expected to insist that extra defense spending be paired with an equivalent amount of budget relief for domestic initiatives, reported Federal News Radio.
“We have four more years, FY ’18-’21, of budget caps left in effect. Whoever the next administration is, they are likely going to want to exceed those caps. They’re going to be put in the same situation the Obama administration has been in,” Harrison said. “They have to strike a deal with Congress.”
The next administration also will need to decide whether to cover new investments in weapons programs by asking to raise the department’s base budget, or by offsetting higher acquisition costs though cuts in the size of the workforce, in end strength, or operations and maintenance. The other alternative is that DOD continues to rely on the uncapped overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, Harrison said.
“As long as we have the budget caps in effect, we are going to have OCO funding, regardless of what’s happening in the world,” he said. “OCO funding has become the grease, the lubricant that makes the wheels of the budget process turn.”