Next week the House will take up the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting forth funding authorization levels and laws that guide our Department of Defense for the upcoming fiscal year. Late last month, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed the bill out of committee that authorizes base defense spending at $551 billion and includes $59 for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which qualifies as emergency spending and therefore is not subject to the recently revised budget caps.
While the title of this additional funding would suggest that it is solely for “overseas operations,” the truth is that this emergency spending stream has often been used for non-emergency base defense priorities that should be funded in the regular defense budget. Just last year Heritage Action’s CEO Mike Needham and Steve Bucci, former Heritage Foundation Director of the Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy Studies, wrote about the use of OCO as an emergency funding gimmick:
The Washington Post headline said it all: Congress may pass Obama’s Syria proposal — without technically voting on it.
The Post explained:
“[I]n their bid to win support for the Syrian rebel training, White House officials have asked congressional leaders to include the measure on a temporary government funding bill … In other words: Under the scenario that Obama favors, there is no standalone vote on the Syria proposal itself — it would just be written into the bigger bill.”
Even Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) 12%, an enthusiastic supporter of the President’s overall Syria strategy, called the legislative process outlined above the “sneakiest of all maneuvers.”
Amendment #247 to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Christ Van Hollen (D-MD), would reduce the funding level for overseas contingency operations (OCO), primarily for ongoing operations in Afghanistan, to the level in the revised Administration defense budget request from last month, explains Heritage’s Baker Spring. Specifically, the revised request sets the level at $79.4 billion. The current level in the Armed Services Committee’s approved NDAA is $85.8 billion.
This funding reduction is extremely ill advised. Spring explains that the administration’s focus is too narrow with regard to costs. He states:
[T]he lower level of funding for OCO that Van Hollen is pressing for would impose a hidden cost on Department of Defense activities outside OCO, commonly referred to as the core defense program. The higher level of funding for OCO in the current version of the NDAA is appropriate. This is because the level requested by the Administration may be failing to account for the true cost of the operations OCO funding is designed to cover.
Heritage Action is strongly opposed to this Van Hollen amendment, as it damages our military readiness by failing to account for the true cost of operations. Inadequate funding impairs our military’s ability to replace weapons and equipment that have been damaged or destroyed, one of the costs of OCO. Maintaining a strong national defense is a core conservative principle, and this legislation only serves to undermine that goal.
EPA. Today, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will move ahead with a rule that will make gasoline even more expensive.
Oil industry officials, however, said the cost would be at least double the administration’s estimate and could add up to 9 cents a gallon in some places.
The proposed standards, which had been stuck in regulatory limbo since 2011, would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleet-wide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017.
Charles T. Drevna, president for the American Fuel and Petroleum Manufacturers, said the EPA is not obligated under the Clean Air Act to reduce the sulfur content of gas any further. U.S. refiners have lowered gasoline sulfur nearly 90 percent since 2004, according to the association, from 300 to 30 parts per million.
GUNS. As President Obama mounts another ineffective public relations effort on gun control, Senate Republicans are quietly drafting an alternative.
[Sen. Chuck] Grassley [R-IA] is concerned that the legislation being pushed by Democrats will violate the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens, particularly as it pertains to firearms.
HAGEL. The possibility that Chuck Hagel will be nominated as the next U.S. Defense Secretary has become more secure, in part due to Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) new position on the matter, despite well grounded reservations many hold about the nominee. Reuters reports:
Shelby joined almost every other Republican senator a week ago in delaying a vote on confirming Hagel in order to allow colleagues more time to examine Hagel’s record, said spokesman Jonathan Graffeo.
He now will vote for a motion to stop debate, ending the delay, and in favor of the nomination, barring any surprises between now and a confirmation vote…
Fifteen other Republican senators signed a letter to Obama on Thursday asking that he withdraw Hagel’s nomination, saying they respected the military service of the decorated Vietnam War veteran but that he lacked the bipartisan support and confidence to serve effectively.
The White House said it still supported Hagel and expected he would be confirmed. The Senate is expected to vote next week.