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Emergency War Fund As Worthless As Monopoly Money, Expert Says

Republicans have placed their trust in the emergency war fund as a clever tactic to evade caps imposed by sequestration. Some experts are arguing that even though legislators appear to be satisfied at the moment, the amount currently proposed won’t ultimately be approved.

By placing funds in the OCO for programs not directly related to war, legislators are able to add a considerable amount to the defense budget without having to repeal budget caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

While Republicans have largely agreed with the move to place long-term military spending in the short-term, emergency Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, there are a few holdovers left. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina protested on Sunday that the GOP is using dishonest budget tactics instead of facing the problem of sequestration. (RELATED: GOP Rep. Mulvaney Calls ‘Foul’ On Dishonest Defense Budget Tactics)

Mulvaney isn’t getting his way at the moment, but Mackenzie Eaglen at the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out that appropriators have the final say. Apparently, estimates place the likely OCO amount that will actually be approved at somewhere between $50.9 billion and $90 billion dollars. This means that the amount proposed for the OCO is essentially equivalent to Monopoly money, according to Eaglen. Building objections from power players like Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James may come into play when the time arrives for appropriators to make a decision.

The end of last week marked the start of a two-week recess for Congress, with politicians reconvening on April 13. But for some senior members and staff negotiating the defense budget, it isn’t really a break at all.

Members are busy negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate 2016 spending plans passed last week. Those plans include a $96 billion and $89 billion war fund allocation, respectively, Defense News reports.

House Committee of the Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi are the two main movers and shakers in the debate.

The OCO account is just one of the items Congress will have to work out. By working feverishly through the break, the hope is that a final conference agreement will be adopted by April 15– just two days after the recess ends.

But it seems more plausible that budget talks will extend further into the month. When April 13 hits, Speaker of the House John Boehner will appoint several conferees to come up with an agreement.

So far, both the House and Senate seem intent on keeping caps on spending that limits the base Pentagon budget next year to $523 billion dollars. Other domestic programs are limited to $493 billion.

There is, however, a slight snag in the Senate. First, for any proposal that would boost the OCO over $58 billion, the amount originally requested by President Barack Obama, 60 votes are required. An additional difference between the chambers is that while the Senate leaves caps imposed by sequestration set all the way through to 2021, the House’s budget blueprint raises caps by $387 billion over the course of a decade.

For now, though, Republicans will continue to rely on the OCO tactic to carry them through the budget debate.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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