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One More War Supplemental, Please

March 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

A huge chunk of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been done outside of the regular congressional appropriations process through “supplemental” spending bills, which don’t count on the budget and mask the actual impact the wars are having on the deficit.

This is something Obama vowed to change on the campaign trail. “As President, Obama will […] end the abuse of the supplemental budgets, where much of the money has been lost, by creating system of oversight for war funds as stringent as in the regular budget,” a campaign document (.pdf) on defense spending stated.

Last April, Obama was forced to request a war supplemental from Congress because war money was running out and President Bush’s 2009 budget was still in effect. At the time vowed to make it the last.

But, last Thursday, the Administration was back in front of Congress asking for another supplemental for the Afghanistan surge:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that he wants Congress to approve by early spring $33 billion in supplemental spending to cover military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates said the Defense Department needs the money soon to “prevent costly and counterproductive disruptions” to its operations.

Most of the $33 billion request would pay for the surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan and to accelerate training of Afghan security forces — the major facets of President Obama’s plan to stabilize the country and allow the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The troop surge decision came at an awful time for being funded in the regular budgeting process. Obama announced the decision on December 1, 2009, which gave Congress only 19 days to include funds for it in the 2010 Defense bill. That’s too fast for Congress to act, and the money wasn’t included. Now, Gates is saying now the DoD needs the money much sooner than when Congress will finish the 2011 Defense bill in order to avoid disruption. It’s a classic example of how a naive campaign promise, no matter how well-intentioned, gets ignored when faced with the reality of governing.

Image of Obama in Afghanistan this weekend from the White House Flickr page.

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