Haven't we paid enough for the Bush wars?
Here's yet another infuriating legacy
from the Bush/Cheney wars: a bloated and growing "war" fund.
The number of U.S. troops deployed in battle zones is at its lowest level since before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Still, Congress has authorized a 38 percent increase in the war budget over last year.
The contradiction is the legacy of an emergency war fund, started in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, that has become a favorite Washington way to sidestep the impact of fiscal constraints on military spending.
The Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, has been tapped to fund tens of billions of dollars in programs with questionable links, or none, to wars, according to current and former U.S. officials, analysts and budget documents.
Since this is a contingency fund, it doesn't count against the limits imposed by sequestration—the automatic cuts built into the 2011 Budget Control Act. So the Republican Congress has decided to lard it up this year, adding $38 billion to increase defense spending outside of those caps. Never mind that the purpose of the OCO was expressly support for Iraq and Afghanistan and related operations. Now it has become a funding mechanism as more and more Pentagon programs are run through it. Because Congress won't deal with getting rid of sequestration and they won't come up with a responsible budget that address revenue: raising taxes.
Between 2001 and 2014 we spent $1.6 trillion on these wars. But at least $81 billion of that wasn't even spent on actual war costs, but no one really knows how much because, guess what, the OCO isn't audited. Says Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work. "There's a lot of money in the OCO that should probably be in base (budget). It just happened over 12 years." It just happened. Just like we just ended up in Iraq. Some of the things that have likely fallen into this "gray area" of the defense budget:
- This year, Congress added $1 billion for a National Guard and Reserve equipment account the Pentagon hadn't requested, as well as $532 million for military construction worldwide. That includes a hangar in Italy for a Navy submarine-hunting aircraft.
- Several billion dollars to transform the U.S. Army beginning in 2004 from a division-based force to a brigade-based one.
- $351 million this year for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense shield.
Senate Democrats have decided that this has to end and are trying to force
Republicans to the table to negotiate an end to sequestration and to cooked defense books. As the budget battle heats up when Congress returns in September, expect this to be a flashpoint.