- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Congressional budget writers say the Defense Department’s emergency supplemental-spending requests have been riddled with poorly estimated combat costs and funding for projects that are not for emergency purposes.

House and Senate members are looking for new ways to pay for the unexpected costs of the war on terror, noting the need to focus on what’s immediately needed. The creation of a so-called “rainy-day fund” and cutting the department’s base-line budget are among the proposals.

President Bush wants an extra $82 billion, including roughly $75 billion to fund the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the upcoming fiscal year added to the department’s budget. The request wasn’t included in the budget Mr. Bush submitted last month.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and Senate Budget Committee chairman, backed the establishment of a perennial reserve fund to take the place of the department’s emergency-spending requests and suggested $50 billion as a starting amount.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota agreed, but said Congress also needs to take a serious look at the administration’s definition of emergency combat spending.

Mr. Conrad said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a February hearing called the emergency spending “realistic budgeting, so that the department now looks to emergency supplementals for unknown costs of fighting wars, and not to sustain readiness as had been the practice previously.’”

“When we look at these supplementals, we see something other than that assertion,” Mr. Conrad said.

He pointed to several expenditures in the new request, including: $5 billion for Army modular force restructuring; $2 billion for aid to foreign militaries; $100 million for Jordan’s special operations training center; $300 million for recruiting and retention; and $3 billion for core Army operations and maintenance.

“I think it’s critically important that we have these ongoing expenses included in the budget itself, not in supplementals, because that will lead us down a road that is even more unsustainable than our current course,” Mr. Conrad said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in a Senate budget hearing yesterday said questions about foreign aid and embassy construction should be addressed by the State Department, but added that the long-term defense costs included in the supplemental are necessary, and probably would continue to show up in future packages through at least 2007.

He said the ongoing war has resulted in “significant wear and tear” on war-fighting materials, which explains the $23.8 billion total for replacement of troops and lost equipment, depot maintenance and armor replacement.

Mr. Wolfowitz said the $35 billion over seven years to restructure base assignments and expand the number of battle-ready brigades from 33 to 43 is crucial to transforming Army deployment flexibility, or what Pentagon officials call “modularity.” Some members of Congress have questioned why that is part of the emergency-spending bill.

House members have the same concerns as their Senate counterparts about the extraneous spending.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, who chairs the Republican Study Committee’s Budget Task Force, said presidents going back years before President Bush have been using emergency supplements to reach for “things that many would not call an emergency.”

“They have to explain why they want $5.3 billion for army modularity. Does it really take $658 million to construct an embassy in Baghdad?” Mr. Hensarling said.

Republican leaders promised to clamp down on the nonemergency spending.

“There are some pieces, including the foreign aid, where members have expressed concern, and the leadership has assured members there would be a thorough scrubbing of the supplemental,” said Burson Taylor, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

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