Military brass endorse boost in war funding

Military service leaders on Tuesday said that a House Budget Committee proposal to fund the Defense Department beyond spending caps could help reverse the toll of sequestration.

Army Secretary John McHugh told the House Armed Services Committee that the provision would give his branch around $4.2 billion over sequester levels, as opposed to President Obama’s proposed $126.5 billion budget for the service, which is roughly $6 billion over.

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“That’s a far better outcome than sequestration. There’s no argument about that,” he said during a hearing, noting that the funds would most likely go toward end-strength needs, something that is an “allowable” use of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds.

However, he warned, the Army already has $5.5. billion in its OCO accounts that “should really be in the base” budget, and adding to that amount will make it harder to eventually merge the accounts.

“My plea to you simply would be, I don’t know how to fix this, but if the use of OCO, if it’s allowable, or if you can find a way to make it allowable, and if that gets us over this hump, I’m all in favor of getting over this hump because we are all very much in need of it,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the panel.

Welsh said his service is in a “dire place” and while his branch can’t count on war funding over the long term, “anything’s better than nothing.”

A provision in the House Budget Committee blueprint, rolled out Tuesday morning, calls for boosting OCO spending to about $90 billion for fiscal 2016, nearly $40 billion over the president’s request.

The amount would just about cover the administration's request for the Defense Department, which was $38 billion above the spending caps for the next fiscal year. The proposal is meant to satisfy defense hawks in the House who have derided the sequestration budget ceilings that are set to return in fiscal 2016.

While Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingLobbying world Trump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress MORE (R-La.) warned using war funds to cover gaps in the base budget of the services could lead to a “downward spiral” of more spending, the Budget panel’s proposal appears to be the “best approach to take.”

But Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksJan. 6 organizers used burner phones to communicate with White House: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House Democrats eye big vote on Biden measure Meadows comes under growing Jan. 6 panel spotlight MORE (R-Ala.) wasn’t so sure. He railed against the president’s budget and asked the service leaders what difference it makes if the additional funds come from OCO or the base budget.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that utilizing war funds presents some challenges as it has restrictions, such as not being allowed to build ships.

Both McHugh, a former member of the House from New York who served on the Armed Services panel, and James admitted it would be better if the additional dollars originated from base service budgets.

“The worst of all is if we don’t get this fixed through some mechanism,” James said.