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White House: Trump budget to boost military outside of spending caps

February 25, 2019 GMT

The acting director of the White House budget office said Monday that President Trump’s 2020 budget blueprint will adhere to strict caps on discretionary spending and that Mr. Trump will instead seek additional money for the military through a special war fund not subject to the fiscal guardrails.

If Congress approves another deal to increase the discretionary spending caps, it would be a “bad deal” for taxpayers, said Russ Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

“Making America safe and secure is the administration’s top priority, and the president’s budget will reflect that,” Mr. Vought wrote in a piece for Real Clear Politics. “However, the budget will provide these investments while adhering to the spending caps already set in law.”


If Congress does not strike a deal to increase the spending caps again, lawmakers will have to find billions of dollars in spending cuts to defense and non-defense programs to comply with the new guardrails for fiscal 2020, which starts on Oct. 1.

Mr. Vought said additional resources for the military will come from Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. OCO is a special war fund that, like mandatory spending programs such as Medicare and social security, is exempt from the discretionary spending cap limits.

He acknowledged that fiscal conservatives, some of whom have criticized OCO as a Pentagon “slush fund,” might feel uncomfortable with the strategy.

“Yet, as long as Congressional Democrats insist on demanding more social spending in exchange for continuing to fund defense spending, expanding the use of OCO funds remains the administration’s only fiscally responsible option in meeting national security needs while avoiding yet another increase to the spending caps,” he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe also said this month it didn’t matter a whole lot to him if a boost for the military relied in large part on OCO funding.

“It doesn’t to me it does to everybody else,” said Mr. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “All I want is the results.”

Mr. Vought said the president’s budget plan will include “one of the largest spending reductions in history” through a 5 percent cut to non-defense discretionary programs.

Congress routinely approves additional OCO money, but Democrats are likely to revolt against a budget plan that leverages the special fund to get around the defense spending caps at the same time it calls for cuts to domestic social programs.

Mr. Trump has already submitted two “extreme” budget requests that Congress rejected, said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey.

“Acting Director Vought’s op-ed confirms that the third Trump budget will be more of the same,” said Ms. Lowey, New York Democrat.

Past budget deals have included “parity,” or funding increases to both defense and domestic programs, in order to win enough support from both parties.