GOP-Led Senate Proposes $69B for Pentagon 'Overseas War Fund,' Part of $696 Billion Spending Bill

The Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a $696 billion Pentagon spending bill for 2021, which includes $69 billion for a controversial overseas war operations fund.

The Senate's version of the Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2021 includes $627 billion for defense spending, including billions that will be siphoned off to fund President Donald Trump's southern border wall. But it's the panel's passage of $68.7 billion for a war fund with little oversight that may rile up members of Congress from both parties. The Department of Defense has absorbed approximately $2 trillion in taxpayer money since the formation of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The fiscal 2021 Senate GOP proposal is part of their larger $1.4 trillion spending bill.

The OCO fund was initially intended for "temporary and emergency requirements" when it was created after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But the GOP-majority Senate seeks to continue funding the account 20 years later, which military officials and budget hawks have described as the Pentagon's "private slush fund" to get what it wants.

Billions of dollars set aside for the special war funding operations have gone missing in the past, but congressional critics and even former President Barack Obama have failed to make good on vows to "end the abuse" of unaccounted-for wartime spending.

Instead of a gradual reduction in the OCO budget, it has steadily increased and now makes up about 20 percent of the Pentagon's annual budget. Director of research at Citizens Against Government Waste, Sean Kennedy, noted in October that if the OCO was considered a U.S. federal agency, it would be the fourth-largest spender in the entire federal government.

A Defense News op-ed in October, entitled "End the Pentagon's OCO Slush Fund," said fiscal abuse is rampant and it's designed to "inflate spending at the DoD above the baseline budget and for purposes unrelated to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and military operations in other countries, like Syria."

About 20 percent of the OCO is now used for "emergency funding" purposes that are outside of the Department of Defense main budget. Despite the increase in spending for overseas operations, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump have insisted all U.S. soldiers will return from Afghanistan as soon as Christmas.

Despite this, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said Senate Democrats assisted with the proposal Tuesday to "get the job done."

"By & large, these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the Senate Appropriations Cmte. As negotiations w/ the House begin in earnest, I look fwd to working w/@NitaLowey, @SenatorLeahy, @RepKayGranger to resolve our differences in a bipartisan manner," Shelby tweeted Tuesday.

The Democrat-led House passed its own $694 billion version of the Pentagon spending bill back in July. It included provisions for renaming bases that are named for Confederate leaders and had several provisions intended to block additional DoD funding for Trump's Mexico border wall.

Washington is currently operating under a stopgap spending measure, called a continuing resolution, which began last month and ends December 11. As The Hill reported Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both expressed their desire to pass a massive omnibus spending bill. The alternative would be working out yet another short-term resolution to keep the government open.

Newsweek reached out to the Senate committee members as well as the DoD for additional remarks Tuesday afternoon.

pentagon funding bill overseas wars
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper (L) inspect the troops during a full honors welcome ceremony on the parade grounds at the Pentagon, on July 25, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Earlier this week Esper was sworn in as the 27th Secretary of Defense. MARK WILSON /Staff/Getty Images