Monday, January 24, 2005

 

Bush to Seek About $80 Billion In Supplemental Defense Funding.

H/T Dudge:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration plans to announce as early as Tuesday that it will seek about $80 billion in new funding for military operations this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration and congressional sources said on Monday.

The new supplemental budget request would come on top of the $25 billion in emergency spending already approved for the current fiscal year, and will push total 2005 funding for military operations and equipment close to a record $105 billion, the sources said on Monday.
Once, a long time ago (pre-Clinton Administration), the supplemental as we know it today didn't exist.

There was a prohibition against funding military operations in the annual Defense budget-- put into place to prevent DoD from going off and fighting its own war without congressional intervention-- but the scale of military operations was so small as to be negligible. In fact, for the longest time, supplemental defense funding was so modest it was lumped into supplemental appropriations typically undertaken for disaster and humanitarian relief.

That all began to change with the advent of American peackeeping operations in the 1990s. Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, the war in Kosovo, and 1998's Operation Desert Fox all required additional funding to support ongoing military operations.

Ideally, the defense emergency supplemental pays for defense emergencies. It pays for perishable items: bombs, bullets, replacement parts and fuel. It also covers unique personnel costs like combat pay.

However, given the increasing frequency of defense supplementals in recent years, DoD started throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the requests. Including funding traditionally not associated with supplementals, such as program new starts. This especially occured once Congress removed their old rules demanding that DoD find offsets within its own budget to pay for the supplemental later in the decade. With no need to find money in their own pocket, DoD didn't care about counting pennies.

Combine this blank check with a strong-on-defense Republican Congress committed to embarrassing the spendthrift Clinton Administration, and the result was a veritable wish-list buffet.

Here's where we find ourselves today: an $80 billion supplemental request, on top of a $79 billion supplemental last year. Which, we must remember, is *on top of* a $400+ billion annual defense budget that already pays for salaries, routine benefits, weapons development, procurement, etc.

Best of all for the Pentagon, supplemental funding is most often slush money-- meaning that in many cases it's not allocated for specific programs, but general accounts instead. Which means less annoying oversight from Congress.

Hey, I hate congressional oversight as much as the next guy, but it's there for a reason. Someone has to keep me honest.

Unfortunately, polititical resistance to the supplemental process is a sure-fire loser on Capitol Hill. Even when the critics have a point, it's too easy to portray their criticism as a failure to support "the troops."

I'm all for additional money to support operations-- wishing that bill away won't make it go away.

Let's be honest, the amount for the defense supplemental is an annually-predictable quantity in the War on Terror. The challenge the Administration creates for itself is that, in removing the supplemental request from the annual defense budget, they abdicate their responsiblity to balance a budget. If this supplemental funding were included in the annual defense budget calculations, the President's Office of Management and Budget would enjoy the luxury of sending over a budget that *they* want.

Instead, Congress is going to get an $80 billion bill that they can only pay in one of two ways: deficit spending, or with cuts against other Bush Administration priorities. And either option may ultimately be worse than paying the bill now, *before* the budget goes to the Hill.

As I see it, additional deficit spending will only hurt President Bush's initiatives, especially Social Security reform. Alternatively, letting Congress cut other programs to fund the supplemental relinquishes control over what gets cut, and what doesn't.

Cynical advocates of the supplemental process will point to recent experience and argue that Congress will almost certainly use deficit spending to pay the bill, so who cares? Also, for obvious reasons few members of Congress will vote against the bill-- and those that do will do so for dubious political reasons (i.e., they're wacko nutjobs against the war, not reasoned critics of a broken budgeting process).

My point to this rant is partly to educate, but also to support a fundamental reform of this process. As anyone with half a clue knows, the Pentagon's accounting system is far from efficient. Pouring tens of billions in free cash into the system, few strings attached, is a recipe for disaster. Especially when, in the end, the defense supplemental is an *estimate* of required funding, and not a precise invoice.

For every dollar that gets to the troops in the field, quite a few nickels will disappear in waste, fraud and abuse. It has nothing to do with any nefarious plot or gross incompetence, and everything to do with the inevitably inherent friction in government bureaucracy.

We're in for a long war here, and a very expensive one. There ought to be a better way to pay for it.

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This posting was made on my personal computer.


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