Democrats Give White House Blank-Check For Iraq
Democrats Give White House Another Blank-Check For Iraq
By Jason Leopold, The Public Record
A Democratic engineered emergency supplemental bill to continue funding the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan to the tune of $162 billion is expected to win bipartisan support, aides to leaders in the House said late Wednesday.
The bill, as currently drafted, does not contain any conditions for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq nor does it restrict how President Bush can conduct military operations. The legislation ensures both wars are funded well into 2009 and comes nearly two years after Democrats won majorities in Congress and the Senate largely on promises to resist handing the Bush administration "blank-checks" for Iraq and a pledge to immediately bring U.S. troops home.
A spokesperson for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was unavailable for comment.
In a column published on The Huffington Post in November 2006, just a couple of weeks after Democrats took back control of Congress, Pelosi wrote "that the biggest ethical issue facing our country for the past three and a half years is the war in Iraq."
"This unnecessary pre-emptive war has come at great cost. Nearly 2,900 of our brave troops have lost their lives and more than 21,000 more have suffered lasting wounds," Pelosi wrote." Since the war began, Congress has appropriated more than $350 billion, and the United States has suffered devastating damage to our reputation in the eyes of the world."
Since she published that column an additional 1,200 U.S. troops died in Iraq and nearly 10,000 more were wounded, according to statistics released by the Defense Department. Additionally, tens of thousands of Iraqis civilians have been killed since the March 2003 invasion. Moreover, if the new supplemental passes it will bring the total costs of the war to more than $600 billion.
Congressional leaders intend to hand the legislation to the Senate Thursday The White House indicated Bush will sign the legislation into law if it passes both Houses, which Democratic leaders said is the likely outcome.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Reuters the bipartisan legislation tackles "important domestic needs" in addition to the war funding. Hoyer and House Minority Leader John Boehner, (R-Ohio), announced the compromise between their political parties.
The latest round of funding comes two weeks after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a scathing prewar Iraq intelligence report that accused Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other senior administration officials of knowingly lying to the public and Congress about Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons as well as its ties to the terrorist group al-Qaeda in order to win support for a U.S. led invasion.
The bill includes a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, $2.6 billion to address Midwest flooding, and $63 billion to fund college tuition for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The White House backed off its demand that Democrats remove from the supplemental funding for domestic issues. The Democratic leadership in turn told the White House that they would not attach conditions or timetables to the final legislation, aides to Democratic leaders said.
Since Democrats took control of Congress they have failed at every instance in standing up to White House demands that they provide emergency funding for the occupation of Iraq without conditions such as benchmarks calling for a timetable to withdraw troops.
Moreover, Democrats have failed to rein in the Bush administration's use of emergency supplemental appropriations, despite repeated warnings to do so, to fund the five-year-old war in Iraq and the seven-year conflict in Afghanistan may have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, according to the CRS, an investigative arm of Congress.
“Over 90 percent of [the Defense Department] funds were provided as emergency funds in supplemental or additional appropriations; the remainder were provided in regular defense bills or in transfers from regular appropriations,” said the CRS report, issued in February.
“Emergency funding is exempt from ceilings applying to discretionary spending in Congress’s annual budget resolutions. Some Members have argued that continuing to fund ongoing operations in supplementals reduces congressional oversight.”
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow and budget scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through emergency legislation is both unusual and troubling because it complicates tracking the real cost.
“While other wars have initially been funded using emergency supplementals, they have quickly been incorporated into the regular budget,” de Rugy said. “Never before has emergency supplemental spending been used to fund an entire war and over the course of so many years.”
De Rugy published an article on this topic, “The Trillion-Dollar War,” in the May issue of Reason magazine.
The CRS report also questioned the reasons behind the skyrocketing costs for the wars.
“Although some of the factors behind the rapid increase in DOD funding are known — the growing intensity of operations, additional force protection gear and equipment, substantial upgrades of equipment, converting units to modular configurations, and new funding to train and equip Iraqi security forces — these elements” fail to justify the increase, the CRS said.
Furthermore, a $70 billion “placeholder” request included in the fiscal year 2009 budget that the Pentagon says will be used to finance operations in Iraq does not include any details on how the money will be spent “making it impossible to estimate its allocation,” according to the report.
The CRS added that the Pentagon has used these emergency supplemental requests to get Congress to fund equipment and vehicle upgrades that would otherwise come out of the Pentagon’s annual budget.
“Although some of this increase may reflect additional force protection and replacement of ‘stressed’ equipment, much may be in response to [Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon] England’s new guidance to fund requirements for the ‘longer war’ rather than DOD’s traditional definition of war costs as strictly related to immediate war needs,” the CRS said.
“For example, the Navy initially requested $450 million for six EA-18G aircraft, a new electronic warfare version of the F-18, and the Air Force $389 million for two Joint Strike Fighters, an aircraft just entering production; such new aircraft would not be delivered for about three years and so could not be used to meet immediate war needs,” the CRS said.
The CRS recommended that Congress immediately begin to demand more transparent accounting of the Pentagon’s “emergency” spending in order to prevent any cost-shifting chicanery.
These dire warnings from the Bush administration – about troops in a war zone running out of money – have become routine since Democrats won control of Congress in November 2006 and were reiterated by the president in his June 7 weekly radio address.
"If Congress does not act, critical accounts at the Department of Defense will soon run dry. At the beginning of next month, civilian employees may face temporary layoffs. The department will have to close down a vital program that is getting potential insurgents off the streets and into jobs. The Pentagon will run out of money it needs to support critical day-to-day operations that help keep our Nation safe. And after July, the department will no longer be able to pay our troops — including those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said.
But the GAO warned in a letter to Congress on March 17, that the war funding that the Pentagon requested was based on “unreliable” financial data and should be considered an “approximation.”
Democrats apparently have not addressed the issue.
Some academic studies have projected the total cost of the Iraq War soaring past $2 trillion. However, the Congressional Budget Office said trying to estimate future costs for the war is difficult “because DOD has provided little detailed information on costs incurred to date.”