2015 Budget: Billions for War and Nuclear Bombs; Cuts to Education, Nutrition, Housing, Transportation, the Environment
January 2, 2015
The National Priorities Project
For 53 years in a row, Congress has rubber-stamped a Pentagon spending bill crafted behind closed doors so as to be subject to as little public scrutiny as possible. The 2015 budget provides $521.3 billion in military spending (with nearly $18 billion for nuclear weapons) and another $63.7 billion for foreign wars. Budget cuts went to: education initiatives, renewable energy, public housing, transportation (especially rail), school lunch programs, financial regulation and campaign finance reform.
Military Spending in the United States
National Priorities Project
WASHINGTON, DC (December 31, 2014) -- In fiscal year 2015, military spending is projected to account for 55 percent of all federal discretionary spending, a total of $555 billion. Military spending includes all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance; and other defense-related spending.
Note: The request for war funds in fiscal year 2015 equals $58.6 billion. For $57.4 billion, we could provide healthcare for 2 million low-income children, fund the Unemployment Insurance bill that's been stuck in Congress all year, provide Pell Grants for $5,730 for one million students, cover the salaries for 135,000 more elementary school teachers, provide medical care for 5.5 million veterans and enact the White House plan to address the border crisis, which the Republican controlled Congress called too expensive.
Congress Passes 2015 National Defense Authorization Act
Jasmine Tucker / National Priorities Project
(December 16, 2014) -- For the last 52 years, Congress has not once failed to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA) that provides funding to the military. And in a bipartisan 89-11 vote, lawmakers opted to make it 53 when the Senate passed the House version of the bill last Friday. And like previous versions of this legislation, this bill was crafted behind closed doors so as to be subject to as little public scrutiny as possible.
The 2015 NDAA provides $521.3 billion in base military spending, which includes nearly $18 billion for nuclear weapons. In addition, it also provides $63.7 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations, or war, budget, including $5.1 billion for US operations against ISIS.
The NDAA would make some cuts to Pentagon spending, but also provides funding for things the Pentagon itself planned to cut. Among the cuts, the bill decreases military pay raises, lowers the military housing allowance, and increases co-pays for Tricare, the military's health insurance program. But, it won't allow the Pentagon to make any cuts in 2015 to the aging A-10 aircraft, though the Airforce itself proposed cuts to the program due to high costs, and continues to fund the F-35, the Pentagon's very late and very expensive weapons system that can't even fly.
For more highlights on how Congress plans to fund the Pentagon and the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, check out our "What's in a Cromnibus: Extended Version" report. [See story below. -- EAW]
Overseas Contingency Operations:
The Pentagon Slush Fund
National Priorities Project
What are Overseas Contingency Operations?
The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund -- sometimes referred to as war funds -- is a separate pot of funding operated by the Department of Defense and the State Department, in addition to their base budgets. Originally used to finance the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the funding has paid for everything from military training and salaries, to ground support, to military contractors and more.
Since the OCO fund is not subject to the sequestration cuts that slashed every other part of the budget in 2013, is not necessarily limited to war-related funding, and has very little oversight, many experts consider it a "slush fund" for the Pentagon.
The president's FY2014 budget request for OCO was $79.4 billion, though the final amount of war funding appropriated for 2014 totaled $92.3 billion. For fiscal year 2015, the president has requested $60 billion for the OCO, of which $58.6 billion is designated for the Department of Defense, and $1.4 billion is designated for the State Department. That's in addition to $496 billion for the Department of Defense base budget.
This year, in addition to funding for Iraq and Afghanistan operations, the President has also requested special war funding for operations in or around Syria, the Central African Republic, and Europe. A major question is whether the Pentagon will request even more funds in the coming year, given recent developments in Iraq and Syria.
What's in a Cromnibus: Extended Analysis
Lindsay Koshgarian / National Priorities Project
(December 15, 2014) –
Introduction: A Whirlwind Budget Process
What did you do on Saturday night? Here's what our Senators did: passed a US budget that avoided a government shutdown, set the stage for a February showdown over immigration, relaxed financial investment rules implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act, raised limits on campaign contributions, and made policy changes in virtually every public policy arena you care about.
In case you weren't glued to your screen last week following the spending bill's tortured progress through Congress, here's a brief recap of what happened: Over the course of four days, between Tuesday and Saturday nights (two and a half months into the 2015 fiscal year), lawmakers negotiated and passed a budget to fund most of the federal government through next September.
The spending bill came in at over 1,600 pages, and while it's the law of the land, it was passed so quickly that budget watchers (and even lawmakers) are still getting a grasp on all of the provisions it includes. What's clear is that the bill is a confusing mix of cuts and austerity, and avoidance of hard budget choices.
Winners and Losers: Renewable Energy, the Pentagon, Education, and More
• Education: early childhood education, Title I aid to public schools serving disadvantaged students
• Energy: nuclear and fossil energy
• Healthcare: National Institutes of Health
• The Pentagon: war funding, defense contractors
• Budget process and transparency
• Education: President Obama's Race to the Top education initiative, President Obama's Preschool for All initiative
• Energy: Renewable energy and the environment
• Transportation/ Housing: public transportation (especially rail)
• Agriculture/ Food: school lunch nutrition requirements
• Government regulation: financial regulation and campaign finance regulation
Highlights from the FY 2015 Cromnibus Budget Process
• Congress is supposed to pass 12 individual appropriations bills for the President to sign, not one massive bill.
• Instead of passing a budget before the October 1 beginning of the fiscal year, Congress postponed the process until after the election in an act of self-preservation.
• Congress released the 1,600 monster bill barely 48 hours before it needed to cast votes, leaving no time for adequate public scrutiny and reaction.
• The bill provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security only through February 27 to allow lawmakers to revisit and potentially block President Obama's executive order on immigration, which would provide legal status to roughly 5 million immigrants.
• Reduces Department of Education funding compared to fiscal year 2014 by about $133 million
• Provides slight increases for Child Care and Development Block Grants and Head Start, and continues funding for Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships.
• Provides small increases for Title I grants for disadvantaged students and IDEA special education grants to public schools.
• Defunds Race to the Top, President Obama's signature education reform.
• Increases the value of Pell grants slightly, but this would have happened anyway under mandatory spending rules.
• Despite small increases for early childhood education, comes nowhere near funding the President's proposed universal "Preschool for All" program.
• Provides $5.4 billion to combat Ebola spread across multiple agencies, less than the $6.2 billion the President requested.
Energy & Environment
• Continues a trend of declining funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which will lead to the lowest staffing levels at the agency since 1989.
• Prohibits the use of funds to require manufacturers to phase out production of incandescent light bulbs.
• Prohibits President Obama's requested increase in funding for renewable energy research.
• Prohibits funding for the Green Climate Fund, an international effort to address climate change.
• Increases funding for nuclear energy programs, especially research.
• Increases funding for fossil energy research and development.
• Prohibits new funding for the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare.
• Preserves $12 million in unused abstinence education funds from previous years to be reused for that purpose.
• Cuts funding for the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the group charged under the Affordable Care Act with achieving cost savings for Medicare.
• Increases National Institutes of Health (NIH) Funding, including increases for Alzheimer's, cancer and brain research.
• Provides over $4 billion (and counting) in funding the Pentagon didn't ask for
• Bars the administration from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
• Provides generous funds for defense aerospace contractors, avoiding strategic choices about military equipment: from the new, unproven F-35, to proven aircraft like the F-15E, /A-18, F-16, F-18, A-10, and others.
• Slashes military pay raises to 1% from the 1.8% previously planned, and permits an increase in military prescription co-pays, and a decrease in military housing allowances
War Funding/Overseas Contingency Operations
• Includes $64 billion in war funding for the Pentagon, including $5 billion to fight ISIS.
• Provides $1 billion in war funds for a "European Reassurance Initiative" to enhance our military's presence in Europe, where we are not at war.
• Continues to provide the Pentagon with a 'slush fund' that is exempt from spending caps that apply to the rest of the government.
Transportation & Housing
• Provides no funding for the President's requested high-speed rail project.
• Reduces funding for AMTRAK by $90 million.
• Exempts small businesses from commercial trucking regulations related to "truck weight limitations, truck driver hours of service, and hazardous material permitting".
• Prohibits funds for local housing authorities to conduct physical needs assessments.
Agriculture & Food
• Prohibits the government from using funds to enforce sodium and whole grain requirements for school lunches, with strong industry support.
• Protects members of Congress redundant farm service offices from closure.
Debt & Deficit
• Officially abides by the spending limits ($1.013 trillion) of the 2013 Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act.
• However, total spending is actually closer to $1.1 trillion, when you count emergency spending and appropriations from previous years that will actually be spent this year, bringing spending above the Bipartisan Budget Act limit.
• Some categories of spending are not subject to those spending limits –the Overseas Contingency Operations (at $64 billion, more than the total funding level for most federal agencies) and other emergency funding among them.
• Does not account for tax revenue and any tax reform Congress may enact over the course of the year, or even for all spending: the amount of tax breaks, a major category of spending that includes tax extenders the Senate is expected to vote on this week, are not included.
• Limits Dodd-Frank regulations on FDIC insured banks to participated in potentially risky financial deals.
• Raises limits on campaign contributions to political parties by ten times. Under the new limits, a wealthy couple could give as much as $3 million during a two-year election cycle to their favorite political party.
• Prevents the Army Corps of engineers from regulating arm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act.
• Prohibits the Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) from blocking coal projects.
• Prohibits implementation of the International Arms Trade Treaty, which "establishes common standards for international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade".
Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015
FY 2015 Omnibus (House of Representatives Summary)
"Congress Serves Up a Freshly Baked Cromnibus"
Cromnibus Analysis Blog (Taxpayers for Common Sense)
"The Arms Trade Treaty At a Glance" (Arms Control Association)
The Pentagon's Phony Budget War,
Or How the US Military Avoided Budget Cuts,
Lied About Doing So, Then Asked for Billions More
Mattea Kramer / National Priorities Project
WASHINGTON, DC (March 6, 2014) -- Washington is pushing the panic button, claiming austerity is hollowing out our armed forces and our national security is at risk. That was the message Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered last week when he announced that the Army would shrink to levels not seen since before World War II.
Headlines about this crisis followed in papers like the New York Times and members of Congress issued statements swearing that they would never allow our security to be held hostage to the budget-cutting process.
Yet a careful look at budget figures for the US military -- a bureaucratic juggernaut accounting for 57% of the federal discretionary budget and nearly 40% of all military spending on this planet -- shows that such claims have been largely fictional. Despite cries of doom since the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration surfaced in Washington in 2011, the Pentagon has seen few actual reductions, and there is no indication that will change any time soon.
This piece of potentially explosive news has, however, gone missing in action -- and the "news" that replaced it could prove to be one of the great bait-and-switch stories of our time.
The Pentagon Cries Wolf, Round One
As sequestration first approached, the Pentagon issued deafening cries of despair. Looming cuts would "inflict lasting damage on our national defense and hurt the very men and women who protect this country," said Secretary Hagel in December 2012.
Sequestration went into effect in March 2013 and was slated to slice $54.6 billion from the Pentagon's $550 billion larger-than-the-economy-of-Sweden budget. But Congress didn't have the stomach for it, so lawmakers knocked the cuts down to $37 billion. (Domestic programs like Head Start and cancer research received no such special dispensation.)
By law, the cuts were to be applied across the board. But that, too, didn't go as planned. The Pentagon was able to do something hardly recognizable as a cut at all. Having the luxury of unspent funds from previous budgets -- known obscurely as "prior year unobligated balances" -- officials reallocated some of the cuts to those funds instead.
In the end, the Pentagon shaved about 5.7%, or $31 billion, from its 2013 budget. And just how painful did that turn out to be? Frank Kendall, who serves as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, hasacknowledged that the Pentagon "cried wolf." Those cuts caused no substantial damage, he admitted.
And that's not where the story ends -- it's where it begins.
Sequestration, the Phony Budget War, Round Two
A $54.6 billion slice was supposed to come out of the Pentagon budget in 2014. If that had actually happened, it would have amounted to around 10% of its budget. But after the hubbub over the supposedly devastating cuts of 2013, lawmakers set about softening the blow.
And this time they did a much better job.
In December 2013, a budget deal was brokered by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray. In it they agreed to reduce sequestration. Cuts for the Pentagon soon shrank to $34 billion for 2014.
And that was just a start.
All the cuts discussed so far pertain to what's called the Pentagon's "base" budget -- its regular peacetime budget. That, however, doesn't represent all of its funding. It gets a whole different budget for making war, and for the 13th year, the US is making war in Afghanistan. For that part of the budget, which falls into the Washington category of "Overseas Contingency Operations" (OCO), the Pentagon is getting an additional $85 billion in 2014.
And this is where something funny happens.
That war funding isn't subject to caps or cuts or any restrictions at all. So imagine for a moment that you're an official at the Pentagon -- or the White House -- and you're committed to sparing the military from downsizing. Your budget has two parts: one that's subject to caps and cuts, and one that isn't. What do you do? When you hit a ceiling in the former, you stuff extra cash into the latter.
It takes a fine-toothed comb to discover how this is done. Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, found that the Pentagon was stashing an estimated extra $20 billion worth of non-war funding in the "operation and maintenance" accounts of its proposed 2014 war budget.
And since all federal agencies work in concert with the White House to craft their budget proposals, it's safe to say that the Obama administration was in on the game.
Add the December budget deal to this $20 billion switcheroo and the sequester cuts for 2014 were now down to $14 billion, hardly a devastating sum given the roughly $550 billion in previously projected funding.
And the story's still not over.
When it was time to write the Pentagon budget into law, appropriators in Congress wanted in on the fun. As Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight discovered, lawmakers added a $10.8 billion slush fund to the war budget.
All told, that leaves $3.4 billion -- a cut of less than 1% from Pentagon funding this year. It's hard to imagine that anyone in the sprawling bureaucracy of the Defense Department will even notice.
Nonetheless, last week Secretary Hagel insisted that "[s]equestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly that... the only way to implement [them] is to sharply reduce spending on our readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force."
Yet this less than 1% cut comes from a budget that, at last count, was the size ofthe next 10 largest military budgets on the planet combined. If you can find a threat to our national security in this story, your sleuthing powers are greater than mine. Meanwhile, in the non-military part of the budget, sequestration has brought cuts that actually matter to everything from public education to the justice system.
Cashing in on the "Cuts,"
Round Three and Beyond
After two years of uproar over mostly phantom cuts, 2015 isn't likely to bring austerity to the Pentagon either. Last December's budget deal already reduced the cuts projected for 2015, and President Obama is now asking for something he's calling the "Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative." It would deliver an extra$26 billion to the Pentagon next year. And that still leaves the war budget for officials to use as a cash cow.
And the president is proposing significant growth in military spending further down the road. In his 2015 budget plan, he's asking Congress to approve an additional $115 billion in extra Pentagon funds for the years 2016-2019.
My guess is he'll claim that our national security requires it after the years of austerity.
This piece first appeared on TomDispatch
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