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Report Refutes "Urgency" of War Funding

Report Refutes "Urgency" of War Funding

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

Despite the Bush administration's warnings renewed Iraq funding is immediately necessary, a November Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, obtained by Truthout, states preexisting funds can easily finance the war through February, and probably beyond.

While the Army cites January as the deadline for replenishing funding for the "global war on terror," the CRS notes the Department of Defense (DOD) could reasonably slow its "non-readiness-related spending," stretching money transferred from the general defense budget to last another month.

The report, published on November 9, also indicates the DOD is not reporting all available war funds. It criticizes the DOD's lack of transparency in accounting for war spending, stating the department failed to include about $45 billion in remaining funds in its estimate of how much money is left to finance the war. The monies, left over from previous years' defense budgets, "raise questions about whether additional funds are urgently needed," according to the CRS report.

These questions come as President Bush chastises Democrats for refusing to back his 2008 war supplemental spending bill, which he calls an "emergency request."

"Although the administration classified both requests [for 2007 and 2008] as emergency funds, much of the funding would not seem to meet the traditional definition of emergency - as an urgent and 'unforeseen, unpredictable, and unanticipated,' need," the CRS report states.

The DOD's "incomplete" data-recording methods make it impossible to know exactly how much war money is left, and how much has been used to fund undisclosed projects, according to the report.

The grounds were set for such a lack of disclosure: A year ago, the DOD changed its requirements for war supplemental bills, allowing them to apply generally to the "longer war on terror" instead of specifically to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other targeted operations. This expansion of the funds' targets makes it easier to request large sums of money without explaining what they will be used for.

"This new definition appeared to open the way for including a far broader range of requirements particularly since the needs of the 'longer war' are relatively undefined," the report says.

The prospect of funding a "longer war" became more imminent last week, when President Bush announced an agreement to negotiate a "long-term" occupation of Iraq, retaining around 50,000 troops on the ground indefinitely, according to Iraqi officials.

The DOD's change in war supplemental requirements also makes requests for projects beyond Iraq and Afghanistan fair game, according to Matt Lewis, a fiscal policy analyst with OMB Watch.

"They're basically opening the floodgates, saying, 'request anything you want and we'll put it in the war supplemental,'" Lewis said. "Now there's no pressure to separate the wheat from the chaff."

Since the CRS reports in previous years admonished the administration for the murkiness of its supplemental war appropriations expenditures, allocations within the last two years' supplemental bills have been more clearly delineated, according to the report.

However, the CRS report also notes using "emergency supplementals" may be in itself a misleading practice. A November 6 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report states that by breaking up war monies into different accounts, the DOD fuels mismanagement and unaccountability.

"If the administration believes the nation is engaged in a long-term conflict, the implications should be considered during annual budget deliberations," the GAO stated. "Continuing to fund GWOT [global war on terror] through emergency requests reduces transparency and avoids the necessary reexamination of commitments, investment priorities and trade-offs."

The GAO's findings mirror the Iraq Study Group's recommendation: "costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the President's annual budget request, starting in FY 2008." Yet, war funding for 2008 was proposed as a supplemental.

The DOD's use of supplementals is a calculated maneuver to downplay the amount of money being poured into war operations, according to Lewis.

"The White House and war supporters in Congress have made a deliberate effort to understate the cost of the war," Lewis said. "They break it up into supplementals that are reported separately, and citizens don't tally up all those separate numbers on their own."

The CRS report also notes funding the war through supplemental bills often means drawing from the baseline budget to fund the war during the interims between supplementals, and those transfers are subject to very little oversight. The practice allows the government to avoid disclosing how much of the budget is spent on war and how much is spent on general military operations, making it practically impossible for the public to know how much war money is really left, according to the report.

The CRS cites several examples of this behind-the-scenes use of the baseline budget. In 2002, the DOD drew $2.5 billion from "an unidentified source (probably from DOD's baseline funds)" in preparation for the invasion of Iraq - before Congress considered the resolution approving it. Also, the DOD typically does not include money that has been transferred from the baseline budget in its estimates of past war expenditures.

Additionally, many of the DOD's expenditures within the supplemental bills have gone unexplained. The CRS report notes war supplemental funding requests have been increasing steeply over the past few years, and a disproportionate amount of funding has been allocated to procurement - purchasing new weapons. The DOD has not shown clearly where procurement money is going. In fact, a recent Congressional Budget Office study concluded over 40 percent of procurement money allocated to replace and repair equipment was being used for other purposes.

Lewis attributes some of that increased spending to the increasing use of private contractors in Iraq, many of whom are paid much more than US military personnel.

Considering that approving more war funding is not the "emergency" the Bush administration portrays it to be, Congress can safely challenge the war by denying the administration its supplemental, according to the CRS report. In fact, cutting off funding is generally a "more effective" way to halt operations than are strategies unrelated to funding, the report says.

A bill to add $50 billion to the war budget, on the condition of a partial troop withdrawal, is now making its way through Congress. President Bush threatened to veto that bill. Congress responded that if he does so, he'll be denying the troops much-needed funding. In light of the CRS report, Lewis said, Congress might do well to publicize the non-urgency of war funds, instead of focusing on the approval of a $50 billion package.

"Not many people in Congress are really challenging the assumption that we need more funding," Lewis said. "Someone in Congress requested this report. They should all be reading it."


Maya Schenwar is a reporter for Truthout.

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