Military billions short for Iraq, Afghanistan

Pentagon must scramble to cover up to $19 billion till emergency bill passes

February 11, 2004|By John Hendren | John Hendren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will run out of money in September, leaving the Pentagon scrambling to cover as much as $19 billion in costs until the Bush administration seeks additional funding through an emergency measure expected in January, top defense officials said yesterday.

The Army, which has the majority of troops involved, is spending about $55 billion a year on both wars, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As head of the most acutely stretched military service, Schoomaker said he did not know how the Army would make up the shortfall for the nearly 120,000 soldiers in the Persian Gulf region.

"I am concerned ... how we bridge between the end of this fiscal year and whenever we could get a supplemental in the next year," Schoomaker said.

President Bush's military budget request of $401.7 billion increases spending by 7 percent. But that figure includes nothing to fund the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also not covered is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's decision to temporarily increase the Army presence by 30,000 troops to staff the reconstruction effort in Iraq.

Disclosure of the shortfall fueled bipartisan criticism of the appropriations strategy yesterday on Capitol Hill as service chiefs acknowledged they would have to resort to shifting money from other projects to cover the four-month funding gap.

However, Rumsfeld said members of Congress asked that the funding be sought in emergency spending bills.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted little disruption during the unfunded period, saying: "We think we'll be fine through this fiscal year ... and we'll have the funding to bridge the gap."

Yet some analysts considered the tactic election-year sleight of hand.

"It's not unusual to ask for supplemental funding as things change. It's very unusual, though, to request a supplemental when you know the money will be needed," said Stanley Collender, a former House and Senate budget analyst and now general manager of Financial Dynamics, a business-communications firm in Washington. "If they already know they're going to need $50 billion more for ongoing operations, then not including it in the budget is disingenuous at best."

Analysts project that the 2005 special war request, when it does come, will top $50 billion.

"It's a deceptive way to finance the operations of the military, and I think it has practical ramifications also," said Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Unlike the detailed annual funding request, supplemental appropriations measures allocate money through vague categories, giving the federal government greater spending latitude. They also have been sent to Congress with shorter timelines for action, minimizing scrutiny by lawmakers and the public.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, called funding additional troops through emergency spending measures unprecedented. Funding the war later "deceives the American people about the size of the deficit and the debt that we are incurring," he said.

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