by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
A key Republican on the Senate Budget Committee sharply criticized President Obama’s proposal to use savings from reduced defense spending to help fund the Department of Transportation.
The $3.8 trillion 2013 budget that was unveiled by Obama this week includes $74 billion for DOT. The Obama budget includes $96.7 billion for “overseas contingent operations,” but the White House has said money saved from winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could fund other areas of the federal budget, like transportation.
In a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday to review the DOT’s appropriations request, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the war savings would provide $281 billion that would go to both the DOT’s operating budget and the president’s call for a spending $476 billion on a new surface transportation bill.
But New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) called the plan “a budget gimmick.”
“Does the president believe we’re going to be fighting in Afghanistan for the next 10 years?” Ayotte asked LaHood.
“Fighting wars is not in my portfolio,” LaHood responded.
“I’ve never talked to the president about this,” he said of the so-called “peace dividend” that has been touted by the Obama administration. “What I know is we provided a pay-for in our budget this year. The criticism for the last two years from this committee, and committees on the other side of this Capitol, was where’s the pay-fors? We provided one.”
Ayotte did not accept LaHood’s answer, saying “I can’t go home and tell my constitutes with a straight face that this is paid for.
“We weren’t planning on being in Iraq,” she said. “The notion that we were going to be somehow having a full contingency in Iraq for the next 10 years, I don’t think anyone who has looked at that war would come to that conclusion.”
Democrats on the budget committee came to LaHood’s defense.
“This body has a habit” of criticizing Congressional Budget Office reports lawmakers do not agree with, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said.
“The pay-for is [Overseas Contingency Operations], which CBO has scored,” Begich said. “I’m all for the pay-for. I have no interest in being in Afghanistan for 10 years with combat troops. I think that is a terrible policy.”
LaHood told lawmakers on the budget committee Wednesday that Obama’s transportation budget proposal would be “fully paid for.”
“We will pay for the investments proposed under the surface transportation reauthorization proposal with the savings achieved from ramping down overseas military operations to do some nation-building right here at home,” LaHood said in his opening remarks.