Wednesday, March 01, 2006

War funds likely to win quick OK from Congress

Edward Epstein, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Thursday, February 23, 2006
San Francisco Chronycle

Washington -- Congress may huff and puff next week when it starts debating President Bush's latest request for money to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a $72.4 billion plan that will boost total spending on the conflicts to the range of $400 billion -- but quick and overwhelming approval is expected.

Still Bush's use of an emergency budgeting technique that circumvents the normal budgeting and spending process has increasingly angered members of Congress and, critics say, is being used to hide costs of the fighting.

"I think a lot of congressmen on both sides of the aisle are loath to vote against a spending measure that is seen as being for the troops,'' said Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, a think tank that has criticized Bush's Iraq policy and his budgeting for that war.
"Even though there are a lot of misgivings about the president's course, few will vote against it,'' added Katulis.

But some are trying to provoke more of a debate as Congress considers the latest in a growing series of special spending requests for military and reconstruction operations in the two countries. The National Priorities Project this week released a state-by-state, city-by-city breakdown of how much the Iraq fighting will cost if the new supplemental is approved intact.

The figures cite a $40.6 billion cost so far for California residents, including $1.1 billion for San Francisco, $404.1 million for Oakland, $1.6 billion for San Jose and $115.4 million for Berkeley.

"It's important we realize how much the war is costing in budgetary terms. Every dollar we spend on the Iraq war is a dollar we can't spend somewhere else, or not spend,'' said the Massachusetts-based group's research director, Anita Dancs.

"I fear Congress will do the same thing as in the past. It would be appropriate to have a more vibrant debate over all aspects of the money we're spending.''
The Republican-led House and Senate have made clear their unhappiness over the Bush administration's continued use of supplemental appropriations requests to fund the war in Afghanistan, which U.S. forces entered in late 2001 to oust the Taliban government and al Qaeda, and in Iraq, which was invaded in March 2003. The White House sent the first emergency spending request a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Supplemental spending requests are usually designed for emergencies, such as recovery from natural disasters. In addition to its request for more war money, the White House has asked for $19.8 billion to pay for Hurricane Katrina storm recovery.

"The time to treat (the Iraq war) as an emergency is well past. It hides the true costs of that conflict,'' Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine (San Diego County), the House Armed Services Committee chairman, told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a hearing on Friday.

"And last year we were pretty clear on both sides of the aisle in this committee, as well as in the other body, that we think supplemental funding needs to stop ... Congress and the American people must be able to see the full costs of the war, and it must be done through the regular process and not through supplementals.''

The Iraq-Afghanistan request is on top of Bush's plan for a $439 billion Pentagon budget for the coming fiscal year, a 7 percent increase from the current year. In addition to the $72.4 billion special spending request, Bush asked Congress in his proposed $2.8 trillion budget to set aside $50 billion more for Iraqi operations in the coming year.

Rumsfeld rejected the idea that Bush is doing anything unusual.

"The president's budget provides for the basic needs of the department ... It has been a long-standing practice of the Congress and the executive branch to agree that a supplemental is an appropriate way to fund a war. The suggestion that that confuses things or doesn't make everything clear, it strikes me, is just simply not consistent with the facts. The budget's there for all to see,'' he said.

An October 2005 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service points out that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman used supplemental spending requests to pay for World War II and the Korean War, respectively, at least in the conflicts' initial phases. The same was true for the Vietnam War, and for the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq.

But as the wars dragged on, the report said, some spending was included in regular budgets.

The Senate voted last April that any future spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be included in regular budgets. But it wasn't binding and the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to start hearings on the latest supplemental in a few weeks. The panel's House counterpart plans its first hearing March 1.

Highlights of the president's latest request include $38 billion for military operations, $8.3 billion for new equipment, $3.7 billion to support Iraqi security forces and $2.2 billion to help Afghan forces. About $3 billion will go to intelligence agencies for classified operations.

In an appearance on Feb. 17 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld said that putting together the Pentagon's annual budget and getting it approved by Congress is a two-year project that makes it difficult to include accurate costs for the wars. He said he'd be willing to include spending for Iraq and Afghanistan in the normal budget, but warned that he couldn't provide the level of specificity that Congress would find acceptable.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed.
"It's got to stop. Your requests have got to be included in the normal budget process, in the normal authorization and appropriations process, because we all know and can estimate that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is going to cost a certain amount of money,'' he said.

Local costs of war

If Congress approves President Bush's latest spending request to fight the war in Iraq, total costs will hit $315.8 billion. A new study from the National Priorities Project says that translates into a $40.6 billion cost for the people of California and gives this breakdown for selected Bay Area cities, weighted by population and income.

Dollars in millions

Vallejo 147.5 million
Tracy 90.1
Tiburon 23.3
South San Francisco 94.5
Sausalito 16.2
Santa Rosa 189.9
Santa Clara 179.5
San Rafael 86.4
San Bruno 63
San Anselmo 22.3
Richmond 110.8
Palo Alto 113.8
Novato 76.3
Napa 90.1
Mountain View 123.9
Mill Valley 31.2
Martinez 57.1
Larkspur 20.2
Hayward 181
Fremont 393.4
Fairfax 10.8
Daly City 163.1
Corte Madera 18.4
Campbell 64.7
Belvedere 7
Benicia 45.9
Berkeley 115.4
Oakland 404.1
San Jose 1.6 billion
San Francisco $1.1 billion

Source: National Priorities Project at


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