- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Bush administration has submitted its first detailed supplemental request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal 2005, which began four and a half months earlier. Yes, Congress last year approved a $25 billion down-payment supplemental for fiscal 2005. But when the Office of Management and Budget submitted its $25 billion request in May 2004, the funds were sought to establish a detail-avoiding “contingent emergency reserve fund to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” which effectively got the administration through the 2004 election.

Last week’s supplemental request totaled a more hefty $82 billion, $75 billion of which would go to the Pentagon. Including the $25 billion supplemental passed last year, that brings to $100 billion the amount of budget authority for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan requested so far for fiscal 2005. Given the regular budget-authority appropriation of $401 billion for 2005, defense spending this year will almost certainly exceed the half-trillion-dollar mark.

The latest supplemental request seeks $36.3 billion to fund combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during fiscal 2005; $5.4 billion to refurbish or replace worn-out equipment in Iraq; and $3.3 billion to add armor to military vehicles. These, of course, are necessary costs that must be financed.

Another $5.7 billion will be needed to train Iraqi security forces. That reportedly represents a 10-fold increase over a previous request, indicating just how inadequately such a vital mission was previously funded. In fact, despite all the training successes the Pentagon has trumpeted since major combat operations ended more than 21 months ago, the $82 billion supplemental acknowledges that “[a]ll but one of [the] 90 [Iraqi] battalions, however, are lightly equipped and armed, and have very limited mobility and sustainment capabilities.” That reality explains why Army Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, the deputy chief of staff for operations, recently revealed that “the most probable case” is that the Army’s troop strength in Iraq will remain at its current level of 120,000 through the end of 2006.

Funding the war on such an ad hoc basis by routinely relying on “emergency” supplemental bills not only masks the size of the budget deficit; it also makes it very difficult for policy-makers to implement tradeoffs during the normal budget process. Whether intended or not, that is a recipe for the “guns and butter” fiscal disaster that LBJ unleashed. Indeed, once the latest supplemental is incorporated into fiscal 2005 budget totals, this year’s defense spending, adjusted for inflation, will shatter the previous post-World War II record set in 1968, when the United States had more than half a million troops fighting in Vietnam.



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