Democratic lawmakers criticized the White House’s initial fiscal year 2020 defense budget request when it was unveiled March 11, with funding for President Trump’s border wall and a sharp increase in overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding drawing ire.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in an email that the budget, which includes a $750 billion topline for defense spending, is “not worth the paper it is printed on, and will be rejected by Congress.”
He called out the Trump administration’s proposed $165 billion in OCO spending, an effort administration officials have said was made to keep the base budget under cap levels set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The FY ’20 budget request summary released Monday by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) states that OCO funding will remain at increased levels through FY ’21, after which funding will roll back to the base budget and OCO will notionally rest around $10 billion to $20 billion a year through 2029. The document includes $156 billion for OCO funding in FY ’21.
Trump “relies on a budget gimmick … to fund a massive increase for the Department of Defense that is not subject to the budget caps, a gimmick his own Acting Chief of Staff rightfully criticized as a ‘misuse’ of funding as a member of Congress,” Leahy said.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, called out the “recklessness” of the proposed budget in including funds for border barrier funding within the Pentagon’s $718 billion budget. The budget document released by the Office of Management and Budget Monday includes a new section dubbed “Emergency requirements” under OCO funding, and includes $9 billion for FY ’20 for hurricane relief and border security.
“With such misguided priorities, the Trump budget has no chance of garnering the necessary bipartisan support to become law,” Lowey said.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a member of the House Appropriations’s defense subcommittee, called the proposed budget a “nonstarter” and “dead on arrival” in a Monday email.
Republican lawmakers appeared more circumspect, with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) saying he looks forward to reviewing more details on the budget request in the coming weeks. “I am hopeful that we can build on the early success of the FY2019 appropriations process” to develop a compromise, he said in a Monday statement.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called the $750 billion topline “the minimum needed to continue to repair our military and defend the country.”
Defense analysts noted Monday that the proposed budget serves to bring readiness levels up, and not much else.
Mackenzie Eaglen and Rick Berger, defense budget analysts at the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, said in an email that while the proposed defense topline budget is $750 billion, about $7 billion of that is for Trump’s desired border barrier construction, and thus the true defense budget stands around $743 billion.
“That’s basically just growth with inflation from 2019, and it continues a flat defense spending trajectory for years to come,” Eaglen and Berger wrote.
While Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has touted the FY ’20 budget as the “masterpiece” document that will reflect how the Pentagon plans to address a series of mission needs in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the actual summary does not reflect a major shift in priorities, the AEI scholars added.
Fred Bartels, a defense budget analyst at the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, called the $750 billion topline “a good start” to solidify recent readiness gains achieved over the last two years, and to enhance the military to prepare for future great power competition.
However, the OCO request is “troubling,” and takes a “short-sighted” view of rebuilding military readiness, Bartels added.
“The process of rebuilding the military and preparing it for great power competition requires a long-term commitment,” he said. “It is not a process that will be done in one year, or even the next several. Our budgets must reflect that.”