Release of Pentagon Memo Heats Up OCO Fight

Pentagon leaders consider the House’s plan to use an increased amount of overseas contingency operations funds to support the base budget a “gimmick” in violation of the Bipartisan Budget Act and outlined a strategy to thwart it in a May 2016 memorandum. The document—authored by Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Stephen Hedger and obtained by Politico—articulates a strategy that includes writing op-eds, engaging Democratic leadership and caucuses, and enrolling “significant senior military leader” involvement to oppose the House’s authorization and appropriations bills, which would use billions in OCO funds to support base budget expenses. “In short, we should attack the OCO gimmick and be prepared to play hardball opposing it,” the memo reads. “The veto threat is our primary weapon.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter has called the OCO funds proposal a gamble “with war fighting money at a time of war” and threatened to recommend a veto if the provisions are not removed. The memo repeatedly singles out Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for his calls of support for the defense bills. In a statement issued Tuesday, he called the memo “shameless” and said it threatens the more than five decades of bipartisan cooperation on the defense bill. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, accused the Obama Administration of “playing political games” in a separate statement. “In a Department charged with the security of our nation, the American people and our troops deserve better,” he said. (See also: Finding Budget Stability and Report: OCO Uncertainty is Dangerous.)