Article

Funding War Through the Backdoor

Including programs not directly related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the supplemental funding bill perpetuates the broken defense acquisitions process, write Laura Conley and Sean Duggan.

President Barack Obama, left, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, right, are fighting against Congress to rein in government spending on the alternate engine to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plane, which Gates has called an “unnecessary and extravagant expense.” (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama, left, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, right, are fighting against Congress to rein in government spending on the alternate engine to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plane, which Gates has called an “unnecessary and extravagant expense.” (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

This article was originally published in The Guardian Online.

It’s silly season in Washington again. The House Appropriations Committee has approved President Barack Obama’s first supplemental appropriations request for Iraq and Afghanistan, and, as in years past, Congress is seeking to use this "emergency" war funding bill to spend without scrutiny over $13 billion beyond what the administration requested in discretionary funding. And it appears as if they will get their way, if the present course is maintained.

The supplemental, which will be voted on in the House this week, is a mixed bag of necessary programs and unneeded additions. It includes approximately $20 billion to refurbish or replace equipment worn out or damaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Congress is right to fund this part of the administration’s request. The supplemental also importantly includes nearly $750 million to ensure that service members and their families who have been affected by the military’s stop-loss policy are compensated for their sacrifices, and $1.2 billion for defense health and other programs to support military families.

Other expenditures are meritorious, but out of place, in a war spending bill. According to the appropriation committee’s markup, the supplemental now includes $900 million above the administration’s request for military construction such as hospitals, over $500 million above the administration’s request for pandemic disease preparedness, and $400 million more than the request for surveillance planes, helicopters, and other tools for the war on drugs.

Still other initiatives are pork barrel spending with no relation to current national security needs. These programs include $600 million at the administration’s request to purchase four new F-22 Raptors, a fighter plane that has never been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The supplemental also includes $2.2 billion added by Congress for C-17s, a plane that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated the Pentagon had sufficient numbers of, and $900 millio for additional C-130 transport planes that were not requested by the Obama administration.

Including these programs in the supplemental distorts the appropriations process in three ways. First, including extra defense projects in the supplemental funding bill is a way to surreptitiously increase the amount that the federal government spends on the overall defense budget without increasing the regular budget’s top line.

Second, the additional $13 billion increases the federal deficit without weighing these programs against other priorities.

Finally, including non-war-related procurement programs in the defense supplemental obscures the true costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If lawmakers believe that the programs they have added to the supplemental that are unrelated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are necessary—and we believe that some of them are—then they should be considered in the fiscal year 2010 base budget. This will force lawmakers to weigh these costs against other spending priorities and identify whether and how they will pay for these expensive programs.

Including programs not directly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the supplemental perpetuates the broken defense acquisitions process that both Gates and Obama are working to repair. This cycle must end. The Obama administration and sensible members of Congress should push back on the House Appropriation Committee’s deceptive effort to sneak funding through the backdoor.

Sean E. Duggan is a Research Associate for National Security and Laura Conley is a Special Assistant for National Security and International Policy at American Progress. Please see our National Security page for more recommendations on military spending and the defense budget.

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