White House to propose using budget maneuver to prevent defense spending cuts

White House to propose using budget maneuver to prevent defense spending cuts
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE plans to propose using a budget maneuver to invest in defense and national security without lifting budget caps, according to acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought on Monday.

Vought said in an op-ed for RealClearPolitics that Trump's fiscal 2020 budget, which is expected to be released next month, will designate additional defense spending as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds, which are not subject to the limits set under the Budget Control Act.

Several news outlets have reported that Trump could call for designating as much as $174 billion in defense spending as OCO, a significant increase from the $69 billion designated in that account for this year.

The administration's stance could set up a battle between the White House and Congress over spending levels, after a dispute over funding for a border wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown. Congress needs to decide on spending levels before finishing appropriations legislation for fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1.

Key congressional Democrats quickly blasted Vought's op-ed, calling the proposed reliance on OCO a "gimmick."

"If true, this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make a mockery of the federal budget process, obscure the true cost of military operations, and severely shortchange other investments vital to our national and economic security," House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthBudget chairs pick former Bush official to head CBO Dem leaders feel squeeze on Trump strategy Dems say NYT report on Trump's business losses boosts need to see president's tax returns MORE (D-Ky.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithLet's talk about education and school choice in 2020 Overnight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement. 

In the past, lawmakers have enacted deals to lift the budget caps so that Democrats can secure additional money beyond the caps for nondefense discretionary spending and Republicans can secure more funds for defense spending. But Vought argues that such deals are not fiscally responsible, and that Democrats have "held defense spending increases hostage for increases in domestic spending."

"The president came to Washington with a sound understanding of desperate spending problem in Washington. His budgets reflect that," Vought wrote. "Time and again, Congress has ignored presidential cost-saving recommendations and plowed ahead with irresponsible budgets that increase both spending and the size of government. This needs to stop."

Vought said that fiscal conservatives might be uncomfortable using OCO to avoid lifting the defense spending caps, but that doing so would be "the administration’s only fiscally responsible option in meeting national security needs while avoiding yet another increase to the spending caps."

Vought also said that Trump's budget will propose a 5 percent reduction in nondefense discretionary spending — a comment that quickly generated criticism from House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyDems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Overnight Defense: Trump says no plans to send 120K troops to counter Iran | Pentagon, coalition general at odds over Iranian threat | Spending bill includes M to study Space Force Defense spending bill would limit Pentagon's ability to shift money after border wall transfers MORE (D-N.Y.).

“President Trump has already submitted two extreme budget requests filled with destructive cuts that Congress completely rejected," Lowey said in a statement. "Acting Director Vought’s op-ed confirms that the third Trump budget will be more of the same."

--Updated at 2:08 p.m.