You could almost hear the gasps around here last week when President Obama stabbed the defense budget to death with his veto pen.
It was like a scene from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” when Antony told friends, Romans and countrymen that “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” But this presidential Antony said at an unusual public ceremony in the Oval Office that he was there to bury and praise the budget. It kept the lights on and the troops funded, he said, but it’s filled with too many “gimmicks.” So he sent it back to Congress. “Let’s do this right,” he said.
And to everyone’s amazement, that’s exactly what the House of Representatives did in the melee surrounding the hand-off of the speaker’s gavel from John Boehner to Paul Ryan.
Six days after Obama vetoed the defense budget, the House passed a new budget that funds government — including the Defense Department — and precludes government shutdown threats until 2017, after the next president has taken office.
Perhaps most important, the defense budget is substantially bigger than it would have been under the sequestration guidelines that have steadily chipped away at military funding to the point that there are unsettling questions about our rapid-response forces’ readiness.
But the revised budget, Rep. David Price says, is better for the military community. The Chapel Hill Democrat said the proposed military funding “is what the military says it wants. I think it’s a great improvement.”
Unfortunately, it still includes some of those “gimmicks” that led to Obama’s veto. The budget is boosted by a $32 billion increase in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund — an emergency war appropriation that is exempt from sequestration rules.
The fund has been a vehicle for defense funding for several years now. It’s given Fort Bragg a critical fiscal lifeline, and it appears it will do so again this year and next. But it’s not the route we need to take to sensible budgeting. That will require the repeal of sequestration and a return to real, bipartisan budget debate in Congress, a process that has gone missing since a small group of ideological zealots paralyzed the House of Representatives and shut down political discussion and compromise.
With a slowing of the drawdown in Afghanistan and a likely increase in special-operations action in the Middle East and Africa, we need sane, realistic defense budgeting, not more gimmicks.