WASHINGTON — Lawmakers plan to vote Wednesday on increased oversight for the Pentagon’s off-book war budget, known as the overseas contingency operations account — or to scrap the account entirely.
Of the 558 amendments filed for debate on the annual defense policy bill this week, the House Rules Committee made in order 271 of them and voted to adopt 98 of them Tuesday night. Debate is set to continue Wednesday on the House floor.
The House is due to vote on but unlikely to pass an amendment by Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., that would strike the authorization for all OCO funds. On the floor Tuesday, Nolan called the account a “slush fund” used for “endless wars of choice,” circumventing the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act.
The debate comes as the Pentagon this year shifted $20 billion from OCO to the base budget for its 2019 budget request — and after a report that tallied America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism costs at $2.8 trillion. The Trump administration’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, had a track record of opposing the use of OCO to skirt budget caps while a member of Congress.
The House also plans to take up a war funding-related amendment from, Rep. John Yarmouth, of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, that would require the Pentagon to include in its budget request estimates of enduring costs that were placed in its war budget.
Yarmouth’s amendment is consistent with a government watchdog report that found that non-war related OCO funding tripled from 2010 to 12 percent in 2015 and recommended congressional action.
The House Rules Committee agreed to make in order an amendment from Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., ordering the Office of Management and Budget keep separate accounts for OCO and the Defense Department.
The House is also set to vote on a bipartisan amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. — who teamed with Mulvaney in years past to target OCO abuses — that would order a report on how fiscal 2018 OCO funds were obligated.
Rules did not rule in order a number of other OCO-focused amendments.
Lee had also proposed an amendment that would slash OCO to $9 billion, from the $69 billion the bill would authorize. OMB would limit the use of OCO to specific countries and regions and categories of spending, per a proposed amendment from Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
An amendment by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., would have required future budget requests include anything funded with by OCO in the four previous fiscal years.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.