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Fayetteville Observer (Op-Ed) - The Right Way Forward on Defense Spending

October 4, 2015
Op-Ed & Article
Fayetteville Observer (Op-Ed) - The Right Way Forward on Defense Spending

Rep. David E. Price (NC-04)

Last week, I voted against the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which establishes the budget priorities for the Department of Defense for the coming year. I have typically voted for this authorization, and a large number of my constituents have direct ties to the military. Therefore, I feel compelled to explain the reasoning behind my vote; I also want to suggest a more sustainable path forward for the nation's defense budget.

As North Carolina's only member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am committed to adequate funding for the DoD programs that keep us safe and support our men and women in uniform and their families. That isn't a controversial position in Congress - the NDAA is usually one of the few bills to pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this time around. This year's NDAA was designed by Republicans to circumvent the sequestration funding caps put in place by the deeply misguided Budget Control Act of 2011, using an irresponsible gimmick that stood no chance of bipartisan support and would put the military's future in jeopardy.

I opposed sequestration, the opposite of responsible and rational budgeting, from the beginning. It has had a devastating impact not just on our military, but also on critical federal priorities like rebuilding roads and bridges, investing in research, improving our health care system, and providing a great education to the next generation of Americans. I voted against the Budget Control Act because, despite widespread claims at the time that sequestration would never take effect, I recognized that we likely would find ourselves in just this position, facing a cycle of increasingly damaging cuts.

Nearly all members on both sides of the aisle now agree that the sequestration cuts must be replaced, but there is a right and a wrong way to do that. President Obama's DoD budget request was the right way forward. It would have provided military leaders with the ability to plan for future needs while ensuring that ongoing operations - and the men and women who conduct them every day - continue to receive the support they need.

Unfortunately, with this year's NDAA, the Republican majority chose the wrong path, electing to use a budget gimmick by increasing Overseas Contingency Operations funding by $38 billion. While some level of OCO funding has traditionally been used to ensure operational continuity and mission success, this year's disingenuous end-run around spending caps solely for defense spending is little more than an effort by Republicans to save face politically.

Our nation's military leaders at all levels, from President Obama and Defense Secretary Carter to local officials on Fort Bragg, have said emphatically that depending so heavily on OCO funding is not an acceptable substitute for the conventional military budget and planning process. As part of the debate over the NDAA, I voted for a Democratic proposal that would have shifted the $38 billion used in the OCO gimmick to the general budget for the Department of Defense, thereby providing the military with a consistent, sustainable underlying base budget. Regrettably, it was rejected by the Republican majority.

The NDAA contains several provisions that I would have supported if they had been proposed on their own, most notably Sen. Tillis' 440th Air Wing amendment. As reported in the Observer, I have been a determined advocate for the 440th since Pentagon officials announced plans to end co-location of the unit at Fort Bragg over a year ago. In fact, I offered the first legislative fix to this flawed proposal, an amendment during debate over military funding in June of 2014 that would have prohibited the transfer. Unfortunately, despite bipartisan support from the North Carolina delegation, the Republican majority voted it down.

Our military and the country it protects deserve better than this year's ineffective and irresponsible NDAA. Republicans in Congress must recognize that it is time to end the political shenanigans and work with Democrats to reach a comprehensive, sustainable budget agreement that provides adequate support for defense priorities.

Rep. David E. Price represents North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Fayetteville.