Congress to Pentagon: Hand Over the War Budget

Defense officials are wanting to wait until a decision on post-2014 involvement in Afghanistan is made.

Image has been reviewed by U.S. Military prior to transmission.) In this handout provided by the U.S. Air Force, a HH-60G Pave Hawk hovers over pararescuemen and Brig. Gen. Jack L. Briggs, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, during a training mission at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Sept. 24, 2010. The training mission provided a glimpse of what the 33rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron brings to the fight and the capabilities it provides to combat commanders.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 13, 2014, 10:44 a.m.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to wait to re­lease its war budget, but it might not get its way if some mem­bers of Con­gress have any­thing to say about it.

Pentagon of­fi­cials have said that they are hold­ing off on re­leas­ing the over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions budget — which over­sees war funds — un­til after a bi­lat­er­al se­cur­ity agree­ment with Afgh­anistan is signed. If com­pleted, it would de­term­ine U.S. mil­it­ary in­volve­ment in the coun­try after 2014.

For now, the Pentagon has pegged the war budget — which isn’t sub­jec­ted to con­gres­sion­al budget caps — at about $79 bil­lion as part of its fisc­al 2015 budget re­quest. But act­ing Deputy De­fense Sec­ret­ary Christine Fox said that fig­ure was a “place­hold­er.”

However, top mem­bers of the House De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee stressed Thursday that a delay in turn­ing over a con­crete re­quest would likely com­plic­ate Con­gress’s budget pro­cess.

“I think it’s im­possible for us to go to the floor with a place­hold­er for $79 bil­lion,” Demo­crat Peter Vis­closky of In­di­ana said, while ac­know­ledging to top De­fense of­fi­cials testi­fy­ing be­fore the sub­com­mit­teee that he is aware that it’s prob­ably dif­fi­cult for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to come up with a set of num­bers for dif­fer­ent pos­sible out­comes.

Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Rod­ney Frel­inghuysen agreed, say­ing that “it’s dif­fi­cult for us to put a bill to­geth­er with that ques­tion open.”

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, re­spond­ing to the New Jer­sey Re­pub­lic­an’s com­ment that the place­hold­er is a “ser­i­ous hole” in the budget, said that while mil­it­ary lead­ers want to re­main in­volved in Afgh­anistan after 2014, Pentagon of­fi­cials are try­ing to not “fur­ther com­plic­ate an already com­plic­ated budget pro­cess.”

“When we get an en­dur­ing pres­ence de­cision, as soon as we can after that, we will get a form­al budget amend­ment to you for OCO,” said Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s comp­troller. “If that doesn’t work with the tim­ing is­sue, then we’re go­ing to have to look at oth­er op­tions, and we are think­ing of them now, as to how we pro­ceed if we don’t get an en­dur­ing pres­ence de­cision.”

Hale ac­know­ledged to Frel­inghuysen that he real­ized his an­swer is “vague,” adding, “At the mo­ment, I think it’s about the best I can do.”

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