Tag: defense appropriations

To (Ironically) Avoid Sequestration, Congress Could Declare War

The Senate is back in session this week as the battle over military spending, and the prospect of sequestration, continues to sizzle. Last Friday the Office of Management and Budget concluded  that war funding—also known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)—would not be exempted from sequestration, contradicting the Pentagon’s earlier claims. Predictably, this has angered the GOP and provided fodder for those who oppose military spending cuts on any grounds.

But war funding—$88.5 billion for FY 2013—should never have been considered separate from military spending. This is a practice, gradually accepted in the past 10-15 years, that distorts the size of the defense budget, making it appear smaller. It provides the illusion that Congress and the current administration are fiscally responsible.

The irony of current flap over OMB’s ruling is that Congress could undo sequestration if it simply declared war. In today’s Cato podcast, Benjamin Friedman, research fellow for defense and homeland security studies, explains that the federal code, going back to the 1980s, holds that a declaration of war will reverse sequestration. But Congress doesn’t declare war anymore; members routinely ignore their constitutionally mandated obligation. Those who are the most vocal opponents of sequestration—Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and others—have a tool at their disposal that they will never consider.

Listen to the podcast below to hear Friedman provide a primer on the battle over war funding (OCO), sequestration, and the defense budget bills.

Cato to Host Navy Under Secretary to Discuss Surface Fleet

In its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Committee proposed a number of changes to the Obama administration’s plans for the U.S. Navy. The NDAA rescinds the retirement of three cruisers and restricts retirement of ballistic missile submarines (so as not to fall below a minimum of 12). The bill also contains an amendment which authorizes a GAO review of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The amendments collectively reflect the Committee’s concern that the Navy won’t be able to fulfill its current missions with fewer and perhaps less capable ships. Unfortunately, no one is asking whether any of those missions could be modified, eliminated, or shifted to others.

I will address some of those issues at a Cato policy forum this Monday, May 21, at noon. I am particularly thrilled to be joined by Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work, Ben Freeman of the Project on Government Oversight, and Eric J. Labs of the Congressional Budget Office. Those three make this an all-star cast to discuss the future of a U.S. surface fleet that is undergoing some major changes. With the retirement of the Navy’s cruisers and frigates, the development of bigger and more complex destroyers, and the introduction of the LCS tomorrow’s surface fleet will look quite different than today’s.

Congress is particularly concerned about the LCS because of reports of design and construction flaws and operational problems, including this letter issued by the Project on Government Oversight, and a subsequent article in Aviation Week. But some are also concerned that even though LCSs eventually will constitute about one-third of the Navy’s surface combatants, the LCS is not supposed to engage in combat. In addition, its mission modules, especially the anti-submarine warfare package, are years away from operability.

Our panel will address many of the questions swirling around the surface fleet today, including: How will the replacement of thirty frigates with the still-untested LCS affect the Navy’s overall capability? Will the ballistic missile defense requirement reduce the availability of destroyers for other missions? Could the Navy pursue a different strategy to advance U.S. national security that could be executed with fewer ships? Of course, the answers to all of those questions are framed within the context of declining procurement budgets. Given that reality, one could argue that the greatest threat to the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet is its undersea fleet: the looming SSBN(X) program could devour the shipbuilding budget for a decade.

So, with no shortage of difficult and far-reaching decisions ahead for the Navy, it is a privilege to have Under Secretary Work, Ben, and Eric to help us navigate the way. I hope you can join us on Monday.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.