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Analysis: Defense spending bill finds creative ways to shift billions

John M. Donnelly, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Appropriators have done it again.

As is their custom, they have managed to write a fiscal 2021 Defense spending bill in the House, which will soon be mirrored in the Senate, that adds billions of dollars for programs that did not make the cut in the president's budget.

And -- this is the hard part -- they paid for it all by dredging up at least $5 billion from obscure sources that virtually no one but they knew about, and few will ever be able to explain.

This year, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee's nearly $695 billion bill, which the panel will mark up behind closed doors on Wednesday, manages to bankroll billions in lawmakers' priorities that the president did not request in his budget, while at the same time subtracting relatively few things that were requested.

And yet, as if by magic, the total amount of money in the House bill still comes in about $3.7 billion less than the president's plan.

When Senate appropriators weigh in soon with their own companion Defense spending bill, it too will reflect the same legerdemain, snatching billions of dollars seemingly out of thin air.

 

Specifically, the House's new Defense measure would add money for two major priorities: weaponry that the White House did not officially request and medical research at Defense Department labs.

First, the hardware.

Every year, Defense appropriators in both chambers provide about $1 billion that is never officially requested for a special fund that the National Guard later taps to pay for still-to-be-determined equipment. The new House bill contains, of course, $1 billion for the fund, which is called the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account.

To critics, it is a slush fund that, unlike the rest of the equipment budget, is subject to only after-the-fact reporting to Congress in an obscure report that draws little attention.

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