The battle over fiscal 2017 defense spending so far appears to be following last year’s script, with defense hawks pushing to add billions of extra dollars to the Pentagon’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, which is not subject to the Budget Control Act caps.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday revealed that he had collected the signatures of 84 members of the House GOP for a letter to the chamber’s Budget Committee endorsing a boost of about $18 billion in defense spending beyond the Obama administration’s request.
The challenge for House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) is to find a compromise between defense advocates’ desire to raise DOD spending and fiscal conservatives’ preference to ignore last October’s budget deal that provides defense and non-defense programs a total of $30 billion in relief from the budget caps.
“This is the next big thing to watch for, what the budget committees do with the defense part of the budget,” Todd Harrison, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Defense News.
“I fully for expect for the base budget, they’ll stick to the revised budget level, so really it’s about how much additional OCO the budget committees are willing to put in,” Harrison said. Price recently has been considering increasing the request for OCO by about $15 billion, he said.
Freezing the size of the Army and Marine Corps at current levels, as Turner recently proposed, will cost more than $1 billion, according to the congressman, who leads the House Armed Services’ Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.
“We met with the Budget Committee, we made it very clear that we believe that this needs to be fully funded,” Turner told Defense News.
The money does not represent a request for additional funds, as the department already is supporting a force level of 480,000 soldiers and 184,000 Marines, he pointed out. “That is not asking for an increase, that is asking for us not to take a cut … an important distinction,” Turner said.