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Bush Can Use Defense Budget for War

Bush Can Use Defense Budget for War

By Maya Schenwar
t r u t h o u t | Report

President Bush signed the 2008 Defense Appropriations Act into law on Tuesday morning, pouring $471 billion into this fiscal year's defense budget - all money that could potentially be used to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The infusion of defense funding pushes a debate over troop withdrawal even further into the winter.

Despite early efforts by Democrats in Congress to address Iraq in the defense spending bill, the final version included no language prohibiting use of its funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or for potential strikes against Iran.

Congress chose a speedier bill passage over what would have been a messy war debate, according to Anita Dancs, research director of the National Priorities Project.

"Congress didn't contemplate the war spending in this bill because it wouldn't have gotten passed," Dancs said.

Just because Congress did not address the future of the war in the bill does not mean the two are unrelated. Funds from the baseline defense budget can be transferred to cover war costs, as the president's press secretary, Dana Perino, acknowledged upon the signing of the bill.

"[The president] signed it because it is essential to deliver these funds to our military during a time of war," Perino said.

The administration could legally draw unlimited war funds from the general budget, according to Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. In an "emergency," the Pentagon could spend funds that were meant to be spent at the end of the fiscal year at the beginning, and if the general military budget ran dry after a few months, the Pentagon could return to Congress and ask for replenished funds.

Such reallocations are hardly unheard of. For example, the initial invasion of Iraq was financed out of the baseline budget; the first specific Iraq war supplemental bill was not passed until April 2003.

It follows that with the $471 billion of defense money now in its pocket, the administration can sit tight for awhile, according to Korb.

"The war could be continued indefinitely without a supplemental, unless a provision is included in the regular budget that prevents it," Korb said.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed a "bridge fund" plan which would provide an additional $50 billion in war spending - about $150 billion less than the president asked for in a supplemental request last month - on the condition of an almost complete troop withdrawal by December 2008. The plan, dubbed "A New Direction in Iraq," would require troop redeployment begin immediately upon enactment, heralding a firm break with current war policy. By conditioning war funding on a timetable for withdrawal, the Democratic leadership aims to push the administration to agree to deadlines for bringing the troops home.

However, with the $471 billion defense budget now signed into law, the Pelosi plan stands a slim chance of passage. When it comes to using funding restrictions to pressure the administration for withdrawal, Pelosi's new bill may be a case of too little, about a week too late, according to Voices for Creative Nonviolence co-coordinator Jeff Leys.

"If [Congress members] really wanted to get hard and fast timelines in, they would have attached war funds to the defense appropriations bill and attached timelines to that," Leys said, noting Bush would have had a much harder time vetoing the entire appropriations bill than he would vetoing a small separate fund.

With the defense appropriations funding securely in place, some leading Democrats are doubtful that Pelosi's restriction-laden bill will pass both houses of Congress. Even if the bill gets by the House, it would probably encounter a Republican filibuster in the Senate, in which case Democrats would be hard-pressed to muster the 60 votes necessary to overcome it, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"I always have expectations that we're going to get 60 votes, but we've never been able to do it," Reid told Congressional Quarterly on Tuesday.

Bush has made it clear he would veto any funding bill that attempted to sway the administration's decisions on the war.

"We don't need members of Congress telling our military commanders what to do," Bush said in a speech in Indiana on Tuesday afternoon. "We need our military commanders telling us what to do so we can win the war against these extremists and radicals."

Moreover, the content of the spending bill passed on Tuesday may belie any expectation of passing a firm timetable for quick withdrawal. It sets aside an unprecedented $11 billion to produce 15,000 Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs), which, according to estimates in a June Congressional Research Service report, may not be able to be manufactured, let alone delivered to Iraq, by the end of the 2008 fiscal year. The fiscal year ends in September - fewer than three months before Pelosi's bill would have all troops withdrawn from the theater.

Leys predicts "A New Direction in Iraq" will meet the same fate as the Democrats' failed attempt to add withdrawal benchmarks to last spring's war supplemental spending bill.

"If they get it through Congress, Bush will veto it," he said. "They will not have the votes to override that veto."


Maya Schenwar is a reporter for

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