Commentators on both the right and the left complained this week that when it comes to funding wars, Barack Obama has broken his oft-repeated promises and is turning out to be just like George W. Bush. -- Kelly Chernenkoff of FOX wrote: "[A]s president, on Thursday night he signed his second Supplemental Appropriations Act, which continues funding for Afghanistan and Iraq without going through the standard budgeting process. Now, the administration is not making predictions about a future war supplemental. 'I can't project what the next one is,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told Fox's Wendell Goler Tuesday." -- On the left, Maya Schenwar of Truthout also noted Obama's "hypocrisy." -- But the hypocrisy runds deeper than either Chernenkoff or Schenwar acknowledged. -- Jim Arkedis, writing on the Forbes website, explained on Friday that supplementals are part of a larger ruse: "Here how supplementals work. Every year since 9/11, we’ve had essentially two or three defense budgets. This year, we’ve had three: a baseline defense budget appropriation of approximately $549 billion, a $159 billion 'overseas contingency operations' (i.e., mostly Afghanistan and Iraq) budget and the current supplemental request of $30 billion (which includes several tens of billions of dollars for non-defense items discussed above). -- The dirty secret is that even many of the Pentagon’s 'emergency war appropriations' have nothing to do with our current wars. Take the F-22, for example. Before Secretary Gates won last year’s fight to cap production of the F-22, lawmakers inserted $600 million to buy additional planes in the 2009 “emergency supplemental” after the money was shut out of the baseline 2009 budget. This happened even though not one of the 183 F-22s already owned by the U.S. military had flown a single mission over Iraq or Afghanistan. That doesn’t sound like an emergency spending necessity, does it?" ...
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FOX News' White House View
NEW PRESIDENT, SAME WAR FUNDING?
By Kelly Chernenkoff
July 30, 2010
President Obama, as a candidate, proudly committed himself to becoming a commander-in-chief who forced Congress to face the impact on the deficit that funding two wars creates. Yet, as president, on Thursday night he signed his second Supplemental Appropriations Act, which continues funding for Afghanistan and Iraq without going through the standard budgeting process. Now, the administration is not making predictions about a future war supplemental.
"I can't project what the next one is," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told Fox's Wendell Goler Tuesday.
When President Obama took office, he tried to differentiate himself from his predecessor, vowing not to fund the wars on an emergency basis through separate, or supplemental, bills submitted to Congress. By shoehorning the war costs into the yearly fiscal budget, Mr. Obama contended, members would be forced to deal with their effects on the deficit.
In February last year, the president boasted to a joint session of Congress, "[B]ecause we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead 10 years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules -- and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price."
Not quite a month and a half later, the president was asking Congress for emergency funding for war operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House described it as an anomaly, saying it was a residual effect of Bush administration budgeting. In early April, Gibbs told reporters, "The efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan only have funding through half the fiscal year...[W]e can't wait until the appropriations process is done in September or -- August or September to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in June."
At that same briefing, Gibbs boldly predicted, "This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan."
In December of 2009, the president announced a new strategy in Afghanistan. At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Obama explained, "[A]s Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."
The new strategy would cost money, money that couldn't be inserted into the 2010 budget before Congress was set to vote on it and was needed before the fiscal 2011 budget would be passed.
So, the president returned to the budget table and drew up another supplemental request. He was strongly supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who outlined to Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace in June of this year the consequences of failure in getting the money approved in a timely way. "We actually begin to have to take really serious negative actions that impact our troops, as well as our civilians, in mid to -- in early to mid-August," Gates said.
After months of debate and amendments that were added and then subtracted, President Obama finally signed the supplemental spending bill Thursday night, again defying his own initial intentions.
So how is this any different from President Bush's reasoning when he said of Iraq war supplemental funding in 2007, "The purpose of this legislation should be to give our troops on the front lines the resources, funds, and equipment they need to fight our enemies"?
For Robert Gibbs, it's simple, "[A]t the end of next month, we won't have combat troops in Iraq, so it's decidedly different."
AFGHANISTAN FUNDING: TIME TO MAKE A FUSS
By Maya Schenwar
July 27, 2010
In a moving statement before Congress in February 2009, President Obama made a promise. "For seven years, we have been a nation at war," he said. "No longer will we hide its price."
Obama was referring to the Bush administration's devious practice of using supplemental spending bills -- emergency cash transfusions that are separated from the annual federal budget -- to funnel off money for war. This parliamentary trick masks the yearly cost of war, which would otherwise appear as one massive lump sum, by breaking it up into bite-size, deceptively digestible chunks.
Supplementals are intended for emergencies in which large amounts of money are suddenly needed: a huge-scale natural disaster, an unexpected war of defense, a Mars attack. The Bush administration used a supplemental to fund the early stages of the war in Afghanistan, then kept doing it . . . and doing it and doing it. Throughout his tenure, Bush sent 17 war supplementals to Congress, and they all passed with flying (bipartisan) colors.
As someone who'd spent the previous four years chronicling Bush's slimy war funding ways, I was particularly relieved by Obama's words in 2009. Maybe, I thought, when Congress and the American people are confronted with that giant, ugly price tag for war hanging from the frail skeleton of our federal budget at the start of the year, reality will hit and plans to bring the troops home -- for real -- will become more than just a progressive talking point floating in the legislative ether.
However, less than two months after his bold pronouncement, the president slipped in a request for $76 billion in off-the-books war funds. He helped ease the sting of this hypocrisy slightly by promising that the ol' supplemental shortcut would never happen again.
"We must break that recent tradition and include future military costs in the regular budget so that we have an honest, more accurate and fiscally responsible estimate of federal spending," he wrote in a letter to Congress.
But 16 months later, the tradition hasn't been broken. It's been broken in.
Obama's latest supplemental spending request, which would sign away $33 billion more for Afghanistan and Iraq, is hovering on the brink of passage. Those billions would be heaped on top of the $159.3 billion that Congress approved (with little fuss) for the wars in May.
Now, if ever, Congress should be fussing -- and so should the rest of us. The "Afghan War Diary" released by WikiLeaks Sunday night confirms what we've known for years: we're mired in a war that is failing more and more by the day, a war of hopeless destruction and pointless death. Alliances are ever-muddling, corruption is status quo. It's clear that, despite our gracious imperial assistance, democracy won't be flowering out from the graveyard of empires anytime soon.
Going into this week's vote on the supplemental, the House has particular reason to fuss. Last week, the Senate stripped the war funding bill of most of its cheerier components: domestic economy boosters like funds for teacher jobs, assistance for youth summer job programs and aid for needy families. In the interest of passing a "clean bill," Republicans and Republican-minded "Democrats" have turned the supplemental into a pure, untainted bad idea.
This round of supplemental decision making is a rough scene. Obama has settled into his predecessor's war funding routine. Congress members haven't kicked the nasty habit of smashing piggy banks every time war funding is running low. And activist groups -- the same ones that rallied around this issue with fervor just two years ago -- haven't been shouting nearly as loud.
So, what now?
Just because Obama has gotten comfy with the idea of endless funds for war doesn't mean that Congress and the rest of us need to mirror that inertia.
Sometimes it's a time to compromise, sometimes, a time to ask nicely. Now it is the Time to Fuss.
This week's House debate on the supplemental could be an exercise in depressive apathy, with the blessed Dennis Kuciniches of the chamber calling passionately (but practically solitarily) for withdrawal from the War of Error. But, in the wake of the WikiLeaks release and the Senate job-funding massacre, not to mention the wars' diminishing public approval ratings, this debate could take a creative turn.
This supplemental vote could mark a turning point. It could present a real opportunity to consider and discuss the on-the-ground implications of these $33 billion dollars, piled atop the $159 billion, weighing down on the more than a trillion dollars already exhausted by almost ten years of hubris and senseless violence.
A true dialog in Congress about where this money is going is long overdue. For the past 18 war supplementals, much of Congress has bent over backwards to justify the "emergency" nature of the spending, the standard line being a refusal to "abandon the troops." However, as numerous Congressional Research Service reports and Truthout analyses have shown, the troops will get their paychecks -- and their body armor -- even if a supplemental never passes again. The president can invoke the Feed and Forage Act and draw funds from the Treasury if the mess hall cupboards (or the payroll bank) ever go bare.
If Congress members would look past that "emergency" logic, they'd see the supplemental for what it is: simply another round of fuel for the engine of ongoing war. They'd also recognize their own power to cut the tank short.
Congress's "power of the purse" is its No. 1 check on executive blunders, especially on enormous, deadly, long-lasting blunders like the Vietnam War, which Congress ended by halting military funding for South Vietnam.
The war in Afghanistan has already surpassed Vietnam in length. It's time for Congress to take a hint from history, to stop loosening the purse strings and start fussing -- starting with this week's supplemental debate.
Business in the Beltway
TIME TO END SUPPLEMENTAL DEFENSE BUDGETS
By Jim Arkedix, Director of the National Security Project at the Progressive Policy Institute
July 30, 2010
The House of Representatives has taken up a $30 billion supplemental appropriations bill to fund Afghanistan. However, the bill's cost has ballooned to more than $70 billion as the Democratic leadership has had to slather on non-defense appropriations to attract the votes of more progressive caucus members frustrated with nine years of slow progress in Afghanistan. There’s a $10 billion education jobs fund, $18 billion in Department of Energy loan guarantees, and $500 million for border patrol. This bill has turned the old guns vs. butter argument into a fight about guns and butter.
The bottom line is that Democrats’ left flank is fed up with tough but “must have” votes on issues they view as too centrist (a health care bill minus the public option, multiple war appropriations). But this bill’s incentives are wholly inappropriate: Spending $10 billion on education-related jobs may be a worthy expenditure when considered separately, but it has no business in a defense bill. The Republicans, of course, are having a field day — they’ve exposed the Democratic split by threatening to pull potentially vital support of war-funding unless the bill is stripped “clean” of non-defense expenditures.
The good news is that there is a magic bullet, and it would solve a lot more than political bickering: End the practice of supplemental budgeting. Beyond politics, having just a single, unified defense budget would force trade-offs in a defense spending culture that has run wild in the last 10 years.
Here how supplementals work. Every year since 9/11, we’ve had essentially two or three defense budgets. This year, we’ve had three: a baseline defense budget appropriation of approximately $549 billion, a $159 billion “overseas contingency operations” (i.e., mostly Afghanistan and Iraq) budget and the current supplemental request of $30 billion (which includes several tens of billions of dollars for non-defense items discussed above).
The dirty secret is that even many of the Pentagon’s “emergency war appropriations” have nothing to do with our current wars. Take the F-22, for example. Before Secretary Gates won last year’s fight to cap production of the F-22, lawmakers inserted $600 million to buy additional planes in the 2009 “emergency supplemental” after the money was shut out of the baseline 2009 budget. This happened even though not one of the 183 F-22s already owned by the U.S. military had flown a single mission over Iraq or Afghanistan. That doesn’t sound like an emergency spending necessity, does it?
Having three budgets is like having three strikes in a baseball at-bat — you have the luxury to swing and miss twice. Projects that don’t make the baseline DoD budget (strike one!) can be considered in either of the additional supplementals (strike two! strike three!) before they’re “out.”
Ending the supplementals would be like giving the batter just one strike. By combining all defense spending into one (larger) appropriation each year, the batter has just one swing — miss the first time, that’s it. The practice would force Congress to make hard choices that prioritize the war-fighter. Who wants to be the member of Congress that adds defense pork to a bill that crowds out the a system needed by our fighting soldiers? And with no hope of getting additional money later in the year, it would begin to create a culture of efficiency and discipline in spending priorities.
Ultimately, Afghanistan will be funded. Having a single defense budget minimizes divisive political bickering and prioritizes the war-fighter. That’s a real win-win.