Pentagon chief opposes GOP war fund maneuvers

Pentagon chief opposes GOP war fund maneuvers
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday said he opposed a plan by House Republicans to move $18 billion from a war fund into the Pentagon's base budget for 2017. 

"I have serious concerns with a proposal from one of the defense committees to underfund [the Department of Defense's] overseas warfighting accounts by $18 billion and spend that money on programmatic items we did not request," Carter told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. 

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"I cannot support such maneuvers as secretary of Defense," he said. 

House Republicans have drafted a 2017 defense bill that would authorize $551 billion for the Pentagon's base budget and $59 billion for war funding, known as Overseas Contingency Operations. 

Those figures meet the Obama administration's request for 2017, as well as the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, which helped lift budget caps on defense and non-defense spending for 2016 and 2017.

But Republicans want to shift $18 billion of the war fund into the base budget to pay for items the military services have requested but were not funded and leave it up to the next administration to request more war fighting funds — which are not subject to budget caps. 

The remaining war funding would last through April, when a new administration would have to request more money to support war operations. 

Democrats have criticized this approach as a way to skirt the defense budget caps without also raising non-defense spending. 

Carter called the approach "deeply troubling and flawed for several reasons." 

"It is gambling with warfighting money at the time of war, proposing to cut off our troops' funding to places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the middle of the year," he said. 

"It would spend money on things that are not DOD's highest unfunded priorities across the joint force," he added.

Carter said the $18 billion would buy force structure — including 20,000 more soldiers, as well as more aircraft and ships — without leaving enough money to sustain and keep them ready to deploy. 

"It buys force structure without the money to sustain it and keep it ready, effectively creating hollow force structure and working against our efforts to restore readiness," Carter said. 

He said it also does not address the issue of the defense budget caps, which were enacted in 2013 after Congress failed to agree on tax and spending reform. The caps, known as sequestration, cut defense spending by $500 billion over 10 years, on top of roughly $500 billion the Pentagon was already slated to take during that time. 

"In fact, it is a step in the direction of unraveling the Bipartisan Budget Act, which provided critical stability that DOD needs now and desires for the future," he said.

However, Carter stopped short of saying he would recommend a veto of the entire defense bill, as was the case with last year's defense authorization bill, only saying its passage was "uncertain."  

He said the biggest budget priority going forward should be overturning the budget caps, as with the 2015 bipartisan budget deal. 

"We've seen this done before, and that same support coming together is essential today to address the security challenges we face and to seize the opportunities within our grasp," he said. 

"As long as we work together to do so, I know our national security will be on the right path, and America's military will continue to defend our country and help make a better world for generations to come."