House Republican defense hawks are leaning toward voting against a plan for a separate war fund
to add money to the Pentagon's budget, saying there is no guarantee the money for the proposal will remain available.
"I don't like it," Virginia GOP Rep. Rob Wittman told Politico about the plan,
which will rely on the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, not an increase for the Pentagon base budget. "Funding the nation's defense through contingency is not what we need to do."
The portion of the new funding would depend on finding money elsewhere in the budget, which Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said he fears won't happen.
Meanwhile, Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, who is on the Armed Services Committee, said he will vote against the budget resolution, and he expects many of the 70 GOP lawmakers who signed a letter last month in favor of an increase in the defense budget will oppose it as well.
If more than 28 Republicans vote against the measure, the plan could go down, as Democrats will most likely vote together against the GOP's budget proposal. This could mark a significant loss for Republicans, who want to show they can govern while having the House majority.
If the measure does not pass, it could also mean uncertainty for the defense committees.
Currently, the budget
presented by House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Georgia, leaves the Pentagon's funding at $523 billion, a level that is required under the Budget Control Act of 2011, not the $561 billion requested by the White House. However, the plan increases the OCO funding from the $58 billion in Obama's plan to $94 billion.
A GOP aide told Politico that the budget cap can't be changed through a budget resolution, and the addition for the OCO fund allows another way to increase defense funding.
Some members of the House Armed Services Committee are concerned that more than half the planned boost would come through a reserve fund, which is money that can't be used unless savings are found elsewhere.
"I think members of our committee have some concerns about whether that full amount of OCO would be there or not," Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said. "There is no perfect option, and OCO has some downsides."
Thornberry did not comment, however, about how he plans to vote on the plan.
Former House Armed Services counsel Roger Zakheim, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the funding won't provide the Pentagon with the same features as appropriated money, and that such funds can't be used for longer-term priorities because there is no guarantee the funds will remain available.
Turner, meanwhile, said he believes there are enough lawmakers to force the Budget Committee to reconsider the plan. Some Republicans, while not committing either way yet, have said they can live with increasing defense funding, just as long as doing so does not depend on cutting money from other programs.
"I do not want a budget that uses budgetary tricks to appear strong on national defense, but is actually leaving our warfighters $20 billion short," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, said in a statement. "I hope that Chairman Price reconsiders and finds a way to make all of the OCO funding real dollars."
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