The newly released House budget proposal would increase defense spending in future years, but for the 2017 fiscal year it goes in the wrong direction.
First, the good: In the 2018 fiscal year and beyond, the budget proposal would increase defense above current levels (although still below the Heritage Blueprint for Balance). Congress must increase the defense budget for a variety of reasons, and this budget would move in the right direction in future years.
But the bad news is significant.
The Budget Committee summary claims to increase national defense in 2017, but it actually relies on a gimmick that kicks the can down the road. The budget proposal provides $74 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding for defense, which is $15 billion more than President Barack Obama requested for defense.
This sounds like a funding increase for defense until we realize that the State Department Overseas Contingency Operations request is $15 billion. A total of $74 billion for the contingency account is the exact amount that President Obama requested for the departments of Defense and State combined.
In other words, the House budget proposal only results in an actual increase for the Department of Defense if the State Department is cut.
While cutting the State Department budget can be debated, this budget doesn’t actually make that choice. Instead, it leaves the decision for Republican leadership and the Appropriations Committee.
They will chose among three options: (1) keep defense at the current levels, (2) cut the State Department to some degree to increase defense, or (3) go back to a proposal floated last week to only fund military operations for the first part of the fiscal year.
If House Republican leadership sticks to their stated goal of passing regular appropriations bills, cutting the State Department is likely to be a roadblock in the Senate. That means that the House will either have to keep defense at its current underfunded levels, or go down the path of cutting funding for military operations.
Instead of going the wrong direction on defense, the House should consider a budget that decreases nondefense spending while increasing defense spending. Some call this breaking the firewall between defense and nondefense. The Budget Committee proposal actually breaks the firewall in fiscal year 2018 and beyond. If we can do it in the future, why not do it now?
The Blueprint for Balance proposes a defense budget of $661 billion for national defense and ongoing military operations but provides this money by cutting wasteful and low-priority programs outside of the military. This is the way to increase defense spending responsibly while getting reckless spending under control.