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Hiding the Costs of War

Paying for the Iraq with Supplement Funding

by WINSLOW WHEELER

When America invaded Iraq in March 2003, Congress had not yet appropriated a single penny of the costs of that military operation. Instead, Congress waited for President George Bush to submit a request for "supplemental" appropriations. That first request for fiscal year 2003 was insufficient, and another supplemental request was later submitted.

That’s the pattern. For virtually each year of the war, Bush has submitted at least one, but usually two, supplemental funding requests. For the ongoing fiscal year, 2006, Bush never submitted a first supplemental; instead, in Dec. 2005, Congress tacked on to the 2006 DOD Appropriations Act a $50 billion "bridge fund" to pay for the first part of this year’s war costs.

On Feb. 16, 2006, Bush finally submitted his own request–to be added on to Congress’ $50 billion. Bush’s new supplemental asks for $92.2 billion, but in a vivid demonstration of what is wrong with how we pay for this war, that $92.2 billion would address a lot more than the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First, $67.9 billion of the total would–at least ostensibly–pay for the cost of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, not all of the funding is actually for the war. About $3 billion will help pay for the Army’s reorganization from a division-based force structure to brigades–a plan (known as "modularization") that has attracted great criticism and that the Army wants to pursue with or without the war.

The State Department would get an additional $4.2 billion for foreign aid to Iraq and Afghanistan, for promoting democracy in Iran, for humanitarian and peacekeeping aid in Darfur, Sudan, for earthquake aid to Pakistan, for aid to Liberian refugees, and for food aid to parts of Africa.

Another $19.8 billion would go for Hurricane Katrina costs, including: $9.9 billion for FEMA, $4.4 billion for housing aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, $1.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, $1.8 billion for other DOD costs, and $1.3 billion for the Small Business Administration’s recovery costs.

The hearings on this supplemental request were dominated by questions and answers, mostly offered in the form of speeches, on the subject matter of the United Arab Emirates’ operating several U.S. port facilities–a subject for which not one penny is contained in the supplemental appropriations request.

Rather than comprising relatively small amounts of money for exceptional events no one was able to foresee, these supplementals now come in huge packages for costs that are all too easily foreseen. A major concern is that many complicated and important issues–such as the wisdom of the Army’s "modularization" plan and the quality of FEMA hurricane recovery efforts–are embedded in these money requests. However, because these requests are submitted in the context of the ongoing wars and they are seen as "urgent," there is very little opportunity for any oversight, such as it is these days on Capitol Hill, of the controversial issues.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) does an excellent job to identify and discuss many of these issues in its latest report, "FY 2006 Supplemental Appropriations: Iraq and Other International Activities; Additional Katrina Hurricane Relief." The report was released on March 10. The House of Representative is debating this legislation this week; the Senate will take it up very soon. Reading this report gives one a good sense of the issues Congress should be spending great time and energy to thoroughly consider and debate.

However, other than much speechifying on the controversy about foreigners administering U.S. ports–a wholly different issue–it is predictable that very little will be talked about–let alone studied–regarding the serious issues the CRS has identified.