By Carlo Muñoz - 03/22/13 06:37 PM EDT
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is pushing legislation to pump $16 billion into the Pentagon's overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund.
The OCO was the primary funding vehicle used by the White House and Pentagon to underwrite combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the OCO, those wartime funds have been exempted from the Defense Department's baseline budget proposals sent to Capitol Hill since early 2001.
All spending for U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, known as war supplemental spending under the George W. Bush administration, were weighed by Congress as a separate funding request.
Inhofe's amendment argues the Pentagon still needs access to that kind of war funding, even a year after all American forces have left Iraq and with less than a year before U.S. forces officially end the war in Afghanistan.
To Inhofe, DOD needs access to the $16 billion in wartime spending to offset the massive budget reductions to the department triggered by sequestration.
While America's major conflicts may be over or near the end, the OCO funding called for by Inhofe would be akin to "an emergency fund to address irrecoverable impacts on our readiness levels and national military strategy that incur as a result of sequestration," he said in a statement Friday.
"We are on the brink of a hollowed out force. This must change, as our men and women in uniform deserve better and the American people expect more," the Oklahoma Republican said of the amendment.
Last June, Republicans led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) blasted the White House's attempts to fold wartime spending into the raft of automatic defense spending cuts under sequestration.
"To impose arbitrary and automatic cuts to our warfighters, who are putting their lives on the line for our country, would be morally unconscionable and would break faith with them and their families," McKeon and other House GOP members wrote in a letter to President Obama last year.
But opponents of past war supplemental spending argued it was tantamount to a blank check from Congress for DOD operations, because Pentagon and service leaders were not required to account for those dollars in their baseline budget requests.
Budget hawks in the House and Senate argued the OCO funding stream allowed service officials a second bite at the budget apple, should their particular weapon systems or programs not make the cut under the Pentagon's base budget request.
If approved by the Senate, Inhofe said he would work closely with Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin (D-Mich.) "to define the appropriate mechanism ... to ensure proper oversight of the funds."