When Will the War Money Really Run Out?
President George W. Bush and the Democrats in Congress are now facing off with each other over how and when to fund the "surge" in Iraq after the $70 billion–already appropriated–runs out sometime later this spring. Two documents occupy the center of this controversy: a Congressional Research Service (CRS) memo on how long the money already available to the Army can sustain operations in Iraq, and a letter from the Army chief of staff and the acting secretary of the Army to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Key., arguing that further delay from Congress will cause serious harm.
It is ironic that the president and his dutiful secretary of defense have busied themselves telling Congress to hurry up and fund military operations in Iraq. This is for the simple reason that Bush’s request in February 2006 for the current fiscal year included only a completely inadequate "bridge fund" of $50 billion to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (on its own initiative, Congress augmented the "bridge fund" with an additional $20 billion to repair the president’s anemic request for "reset" to repair and replace equipment worn out by fighting). Joining Bush’s procrastination, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did nothing to augment the deficient budget request, other than to wait until the new fiscal year was four months old to seek an "emergency" supplemental appropriation of $93.4 billion to fund the completion of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal year 2007 (FY 07).
Now, with the twin issues of whether to insist on a withdrawal from Iraq and when to legislate the president’s overdue, "emergency" request fully joined, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., released several days ago the March 28 CRS memo titled "How long can the Army finance its operational needs in FY 07 in advance of supplemental appropriations." Reid and others appear to argue there is no reason to rush because current funding and transfer authority that Congress has already given to Gates could support Army operations in Iraq to July of this year.
On the other hand, in their letter to Sen. McConnell, R-Ky., (also dated March 28), Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and Acting-Army Secretary "Pete" Geren argue that haste is essential, lest the Army be "forced to take increasingly draconian measures" to deplete essential Army and other spending to enable Army operations in Iraq after April 15.
A closer reading of both documents would seem to indicate that the truth is somewhere in the middle: the CRS memo makes clear that waiting until July can have some significant negative consequences (see Page 3 of the memo), and the Schoomaker-Geren letter fails to specify exactly what "draconian" measures the Army will inflict on itself as early as late April, if Congress does not act by that time (for example, the letter does not specify precisely what Army units about to deploy to Iraq would be harmed and how and why the Army would select those units to transfer money away from).
The politics surrounding the issues are certainly "hot" and would clearly seem to be influencing how the various parties to the dispute are spinning their facts. To sort through the political babble from the Democrats in Congress, the president, the secretary of defense, his Army chief of staff, and the acting Army secretary, CRS has produced a dry, data laden, 70-page analysis, "FY2007 Supplemental Appropriations for Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Other Purposes, Updated March 28, 2007." It explains fully the issues touched on here and many more, including the billions that Congress has added to the president’s request, how both the executive branch and Congress exploit so-called "emergency" spending to augment routine spending, the political and constitutional issues surrounding the Congress’ authority to refuse to fund a conflict that Commander-in-Chief Bush seeks to pursue, reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more.
As the showdown between the president and Congress over the war and the supplemental funding for it approaches, the CRS analysis is important reading. Because the report is both timely and comprehensive, it is–in fact–a "must read" for anyone who claims to have something to say about the political and substantive issues surrounding the controversies.
WINSLOW T. WHEELER is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information and author of The Wastrels of Defense. Over 31 years, he worked for US Senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office on national security issues. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.