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Bush Delays Also Slowed Down War Funding

Since 2002, however, the White House has submitted the annual war funding request six months after the fiscal year has already started. This automatically puts the bill and Congress into crisis mode and ratchets up political pressure to approve the $100 billion requests quickly to demonstrate their support of the troops. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) April 06, 2007
U.S. President George W. Bush is framing the standoff with Congress over funding the Iraq war as a matter of supporting the troops. "Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than in providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq," he said Tuesday in a Rose garden press conference.

Four years of budget machinations on the war, however, show the White House's record is not as clean as it suggests.

The White House submits the annual Pentagon budget request in February -- 2008 is the latest -- six months prior to the start of the new fiscal year. That gives Congress six months to hold hearings, debate, and approve final legislation.

Since 2002, however, the White House has submitted the annual war funding request six months after the fiscal year has already started. This automatically puts the bill and Congress into crisis mode and ratchets up political pressure to approve the $100 billion requests quickly to demonstrate their support of the troops.

But with half the year elapsed already with no war funding, the military every year dips into its procurement accounts, delays training exercises and defers scheduled weapons and vehicle repair until the war money comes through.

By the time Congress finishes hearings and passes a war spending bill -- which is separate from the annual budget, and lags behind it by a year -- there are only a few months left to use the money and the artificial cycle of delay, crisis, and military budget machinations begins again.

To offset the delay in the White House supplemental request, Congress has annually appropriated a bridge war supplemental fund of more than $50 billion. But at a "burn rate" of more than $10 billion a month for Iraq and Afghanistan, that money runs out quickly.

Pentagon officials since 2001 have told reporters they did not want to submit imprecise war funding requests and so waited until the annual war costs were clear to ask Congress for them. They blamed Congress itself for this, pointing to Congress's refusal in 2001 to approve a vague $10 billion fund for the Pentagon to draw on as it saw fit.

Last fall, however, U.S. Army officials called the accounting bluff.

Lt. Gen. David Melcher, the deputy chief of staff for Army programming, material integration and management, told reporters on Oct. 10 the Army could easily submit the 2008 supplemental request in February 2007, rather than waiting until February 2008 to ask for the money.

"If there was a desire to submit that in February that could easily be done," Melcher told reporters at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.

"From the Army's perspective, I think it would make good sense to submit the president's budget and the entire '08 supplemental at the same time ... I think it would be good to have openness about that, and articulate the need up front," he said.

The Army got its way this year, certainly helped by a change in defense secretaries. Both the 2007 and the 2008 supplemental request went to Capitol Hill in February with the 2008 annual budget request for the Defense Department.

Congress has also been agitating for a change in defense budget practices, asking that the war costs be included in the annual budget since they are now quite predictable, albeit rising. Emergency appropriations bills, now topping $120 billion annually, are not counted into the national deficit although they add to the national debt.

President Bush Tuesday scolded the Democratic-controlled Congress for slowing funding for the troops but he left out his central role in the delay.

"If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back," he said. "I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay."

Source: United Press International

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