White House Blasts ‘Budget Gimmicks’ in House Defense Spending Bill

President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The White House is criticizing proposed defense spending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives for relying on "budget gimmicks."

Echoing comments from other administration officials, Shaun Donovan, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, on Monday slammed the Republican plan to use emergency war funding to get around spending caps on the base defense budget.

"We have a number of serious concerns about this legislation, which would underfund these important investments in the base budget and instead rely on budget gimmicks that have been criticized by members of both parties," he wrote in a letter to Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The panel on Tuesday approved a spending plan for fiscal 2016, beginning Oct. 1, that would cut the Defense Department's proposed base budget by $36 billion and shift most of that money into an account for military operations in Afghanistan and other overseas contingency operations to skirt automatic spending caps. The so-called OCO account is exempt from the restrictions.

Bill Supports 2.6% Troop Pay Raise

In a press release, the committee said the legislation's war funding is within the level assumed in the House and Senate budget conference agreement. The defense appropriations bill would support national-security needs, military operations abroad, and quality-of-life programs for service members and their families, it said.

"Now, more than ever, we must ensure that our troops and officers have the resources they need to protect this great nation and our way of life," Rogers said in a statement. "This bill makes responsible use of every tax dollar to give our armed forces the resources they need to stay safe, prepared, and in peak fighting form."

The legislation, which will move to the full House for a vote, calls for a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops -- in line with the estimated increase in private-sector wage growth -- and funding to fully cover basic allowances for housing (BAH) and subsidiaries at commissary stores.

By comparison, the Pentagon's spending plan would limit troop pay raises to 1.3 percent next year, continue to slow the growth of housing allowances until service members eventually pay 5 percent of the cost, and decrease commissary subsidies in part by reducing the number of days and hours the stores operate.

White House Concerns

The White House said the committee's plan to inappropriately use OCO funding has a number of negative consequences -- namely, it fails to provide multi-year budget stability, undermines a bipartisan mechanism to fund the costs of overseas conflicts, and preserves funding cuts to national-security activities done by non-defense agencies.

"The subcommittee's deliberate relabeling of non-war costs as OCO clearly violates OCO funding's purpose," Donovan wrote, noting that the legislation includes $7 billion in compensation for service members whose billets weren't created for temporary operations, $17 billion for day-to-day peacetime costs and $13 billion for long-term investments in equipment and technology. "Many in the Republican Caucus, as well as many Democrats, have expressed concern about this approach."

The White House also said the legislation would undermine compensation reforms, prevent transfers of AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard to the active component to fill gaps in the Army's formations, and restrict the Guard's ability to balance its force.

The bill would provide $579 billion in discretionary defense funding and $88 billion in war funding, both of which are higher than President Obama's budget request, according to the committee.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com

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