Pentagon pushes back on accusations of $165B 'budgetary gimmick'

Pentagon pushes back on accusations of $165B 'budgetary gimmick'
© Getty Images

Pentagon officials on Tuesday defended the administration’s decision to propose boosting  a war spending account to $165 billion, a move directed by the White House and blasted by some lawmakers as a “budgetary gimmick.”

“From our perspective, we built a budget that is required to carry out the National Defense Strategy,” acting Defense Department Comptroller Elaine McCusker told reporters at the Pentagon. “The decision on how to best finance that budget was made by [White House Office of Management and Budget] and something that we followed their direction on.”


President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K coronavirus deaths DOJ: George Floyd death investigation a 'top priority' Lifting our voices — and votes MORE’s fiscal year 2020 budget request – which calls for $750 billion in defense-related spending – has come under scrutiny for boosting what’s known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund by almost $100 billion, bringing it to $165 billion.

The account, which was initially meant to be used for temporary expenses, has increasingly become a way to fund certain defense programs since it is not subject to the statutory spending caps created by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Congressional Democrats criticized the administration for using the account to skirt budget caps and avoid having to strike a bipartisan deal with lawmakers to raise non-defense spending.

"The use of a massive budgetary gimmick to hide the true cost of this defense spending request should outrage everyone who claims to care about fiscal responsibility," House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLawmakers call on VA to remove swastikas from headstones in veterans cemeteries House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia House-passed relief bill excludes lobbyists from Paycheck Protection Program MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday.

Both Democrats and Republicans have referred to the account as a “slush fund,” a term used by acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney12 things to know today about coronavirus Mulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE when he was a House lawmaker during the Obama administration.

McCusker said OCO budget “receives at least as much scrutiny” from the White House Office of Management and Budget and Congress “as our base budget request does.”


Asked how the Pentagon will defend the major funding request for OCO when Pentagon officials make their case on Capitol Hill, McCusker said that details sent to lawmakers will have “a significant amount of transparency.”

“Congress will have everything that it needs to do its analysis and understand what we've done and why with our OCO budget,” she said.

Pentagon officials gave limited details Tuesday for how OCO would be broken out, but said the amount includes several different types of funding. One is a $66.7 billion pot that includes $25.4 billion for direct war requirements, or costs associated with combat or combat support, and $41.3 billion for enduring requirements that have not yet moved to the base budget.

“These are costs for our posture and presence in the Middle East, Africa, and the Philippines, along with the European Deterrence Initiative. Taken together, these two bins are consistent with the FY '19 enacted OCO level,” McCusker said.

A third bin of $97.9 billion would be for base requirements, “which supports things like munitions, base operations support, weapons systems sustainment and maintenance, and other readiness efforts that have been funded in part in OCO in the past.”

Separately, another $9.2 billion would go toward emergency funding for military construction to support hurricane recovery and “continued commitment to the southwest border,” she added.

Broken down further, the $9.2 billion in emergency funding includes $2 billion for hurricane relief and recovery efforts, $3.6 billion for potential new construction projects at the U.S.-Mexico border and $3.6 billion to fill the gaps in any military construction projects where money is taken to help build President Trump’s border wall.