The Trump administration released its proposed 2020 budget on Monday, outlining funding cuts for many federal agencies but also increasing funding for defense. As part of the boost in funding for the Pentagon, the budget proposes shifting money into the Overseas Contingency Fund – a controversial account used to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sarah Kreps, professor of government and international relations at Cornell University, is an expert on defense budgeting and is the author of “Taxing Wars: The American Way of War Finance and the Decline of Democracy.” She says moving money to the Overseas Contingency Fund is a way for leaders to avoid answering questions about open-ended overseas operations.
“The Overseas Contingency Operations fund is meant to be for unanticipated purposes that are ‘sudden...urgent ...unforeseen...and temporary.’ The virtue of this type of funding is that it is exempt from budget control limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and subsequent caps.
“Although a 1985 Deficit Control Act created the statutory authority for emergency defense spending, the prevalence of its use is primarily post-9/11, and within that timeframe, an Obama creation. The Bush-era ‘Global War on Terror’ label was much maligned, so Obama, in a document entitled A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility, actually did the opposite and made the budget for these overseas conflicts less transparent.
“The Overseas Contingency Operations fund has become a subterfuge, a place that is inoculated from the discretionary spending limits. Moreover, a decade in, it is hard to imagine that activities funded via the account are unanticipated, sudden, urgent, unforeseen, or temporary. But it is politically convenient for the executive and Congress alike because they can avoid the hard questions about the open-endedness of these operations.”
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