By Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking
For nearly fourteen years, the U.S. military has been on a war footing. Extraordinary amounts of money—often in excess of $100 billion dollars each year—have been appropriated beyond the military’s base budget to fund operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. At the peak of the Iraq surge in late 2007, $211 billion was allocated for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, on top of $541 billion in base spending. Today, even as most of our troops have redeployed from Afghanistan and Iraq, the OCO fund has remained high. Atop a base budget of $496 billion, Congressional leaders have added an OCO of roughly $89 billion. By contrast, President Obama has requested a base budget of $534 billion with an OCO of $51 billion. While both requests total approximately $585 billion, debate over the size of the OCO has sparked sharp disagreements in Congress and a veto threat from the White House. This whole showdown raises questions: Is this just a political shell game or does it actually matter which pot of money funds what if the total amount is nearly the same? More broadly, why—if the number of U.S. troops in direct combat roles has shrunk to its lowest point since 2001—is the OCO still so large a percentage of the total budget?