Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Budget – A Never Ending Emergency

A Talking Point from The American Progress Action Fund

April 24 , 2006

Three years after the start of the war in Iraq, the Bush administration refuses to budget for ongoing costs. Instead, the administration insists on funding the war “through ‘emergency’ supplemental spending bills.” The tactic, which is under attack by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, makes fiscal responsibility all but impossible. In addition to the more than $90 billion the administration wants to spend on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf Coast, senators added billions more dollars in special interest projects. In March Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, lamented that “The administration is running two sets of books here.... There are two sets of books, and one is not subject to the budget controls.”

  • The cost of the Iraq war continues to skyrocket, exceeding yearly costs of Vietnam. The ever-growing cost of the supplemental spending bills reflects the growing costs of the Iraq war. The yearly costs of operations in Iraq have risen steadily “from $48 billion in 2003 to $59 billion in 2004 to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006.” The costs of the Iraq war “are easily outpacing the $61 billion a year that the United States spent in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972, in today’s dollars.” (The Iraq war already exceeds the total cost of World War I in today’s dollars.)

  • The supplemental bill is supposed to be an “emergency measure” but is increasingly used for political purposes. Instead of dealing with many short-terms needs, the supplemental is being used to fund long-term political priorities. One example is the Senate version of the bill. It “would chop money for troops’ night vision equipment and new battle vehicles”—an immediate need—and instead add “$230 million for a tilt-rotor aircraft—the V-22 Osprey—that has already cost $18 billion and is still facing safety questions.” At a time when troops currently on the ground are facing equipment shortages, the Senate should not be spending money in the supplemental on an aircraft that many believe “will never be useful in combat.”

  • Congress’s habit of adding pork to budget and highway bills has spilled over into the supplemental process. The Senate supplemental bill was filled with a slew of projects unrelated to the war or hurricane relief. For example, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) have attached $700 million to the “emergency bill” to “relocate a Gulf Coast rail line that has already been rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina at a cost of at least $250 million.” Lott claims the project is necessary to protect the railway from future hurricanes but “much of the rail line along the Gulf Coast would remain in hurricane danger, and the proposed rerouting would affect only a small part.” While this and others may be worthy causes, the supplemental bill is supposed to be for emergency funding—not the pet projects of members of Congress.

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