The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

A quirk with the defense budget

At the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the expense of the operations were dealt with outside the Federal Budget process by means of special appropriations. Starting with fiscal year 2010 and thereafter, the  various military, diplomatic, intelligence and foreign assistance aspects of Iraq and Afghanistan have been desegregated and distributed out to the annual budgets of various Departments. A new catchall category called “Overseas Contingency Operations” was added as a Defense Department Budget account by the Obama administration. It was intended to replace the bombastic, “Global War On Terrorism” budget category.

There are many Federal Executive Departments and Agencies spending time, money and effort in or on behalf of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In addition to the Department of Defense, there is significant participation by the State Department, the Department of Agriculture, The Department of Transportation, the Justice Department, the International Trade Commission, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and the Agency for International Development, to name a few that have public names.

Normalizing the Iraq and Afghanistan costs as part of the budget management process reflects a level of common sense. The operations have stabilized and are suitable for budget management.  But, Congress ignores that.  Also ignored is the fact there have been no supplemental spending Bills for the “Global War on Terror” for several years. Yet, there is an atavistic tendency in both the  House and the Senate to re-animate that decrepit process and that insists upon doing things the old way. For example, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2012, H.R 2219 passed the House (336-87) on July 8, and was referred to the Senate. According to the press release, “the bill contains $530 billion in non-emergency funding . . . [and] . . .  $119 billion in emergency spending for Defense activities related to the Global War on Terror.” [Total $649 billion]

An important point is that the phrase, “Provided, That each amount in this paragraph is designated as being for the global war on terrorism pursuant to . . . . “, appears in the Bill thirty-two times. The significance of this language is that it raises the Security Category spending cap for FY 2012, as set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (The Act) by the same amount appropriated for the identified account. And, it does it unobtrusively.

The quirkiness of the game introduces a new step into the legislative approval process which effectively grants President Obama a quasi line-item veto to fine tune the Security Category spending cap for FY 2012 to be almost any way Obama wants it.  The Act provides, in part, “[If] . . . .  the Congress designates for Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism in statute on an account by account basis and the President subsequently so designates, the adjustment shall be the total of such appropriations in discretionary accounts . . . .”

The 32 instances of the phrase, “being for the global war on terrorism,” followed by a dollar amount and an account name in H.R 2219, have given President Obama 32 different dollar amounts that he can either designate or not designate being for the global war on terror. If this House Bill passes the Senate, President Obama can sign the Bill into law like any other piece of legislation, but it is a separate official act for him to accept or reject the designation required by The Act. Every designation that Obama accepts raise the spending cap in the Security Category, and every rejected designation does not, even if it does increase the appropriation.  The effect of the latter would be to force cuts in other parts of the Security Category, either voluntarily or by sequestration.

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Written by Tom Fox

09/26/2011 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Politics

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