An article in the May 2008 issue of Reason Magazine presents some surprising information about the financing of the Iraq War. In short, funding for operations in Iraq does not come from the annual defense budget. Instead, "a series of emergency supplemental spending bills totaling hundreds of billions of dollars" have paid for this war.
Supplemental appropriations such as these have typically been used to fund the initial stages of wartime military operations that were unforeseen and therefore not included in the defense budget. This was the case in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. But as the article notes, "past administrations and Congresses funded subsequent military operations in regular appropriation bills as soon as even the crudest of cost projections could be made." That is, emergency spending was invoked purely for those costs which could not have been predicted and incorporated into the budgetary process. Emergency spending has also been used in times of national disasters, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The impact of such emergency spending on the deficit was kept in check by the Budget Enforcement Act, which was signed into law in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The BEA required any supplemental appropriations to be offset through the suspension of other funds that were already appropriated in the annual budget. This alleviated the temptation to use supplemental appropriations to compensate for poor planning.
Why isn't the BEA preventing the President and Congress from relying on supplemental spending to fund the Iraq War? Because "Congress let the BEA expire in 2002. Since then, supplemental appropriations exceeding budget caps have no longer triggered automatic cuts elsewhere. Today the only legislative limit on emergency spending is a congressional prerogative to raise a point of order to protest the emergency designation. This happens rarely if ever."
In other words, emergency spending is no longer confined to emergencies, and there's no budgetary impact to discourage it. In fact, the lapsing of the BEA means that earmarks -- which would have been the first targets for cuts to offset the supplemental appropriations -- remain in place. The President and Congress -- both sides of the aisle -- literally do get to have their cake and eat it too.
How is this happening?
According to the Reason Magazine article, "Last year, for instance, the president submitted a defense budget request of $481 billion for fiscal year 2008. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were covered in an entirely separate $142 billion emergency supplemental request. In October the administration increased that request to $196 billion, leaving Congress to face a dilemma that has become all too familiar since 2001: quickly approve billions of dollars in supplemental war funding without knowing where the money is going or face browbeating accusations of not supporting the troops."
To clarify, the annual operating budget for the Department of Defense was a separate request from the emergency supplemental request to cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- operations that have been ongoing for years. Operations that cannot rationally be classified as an emergency. But any opposition to these supplemental bills is misconstrued as a lack of patriotism.
As a registered Republican and a fiscal conservative, I'm disgusted by this "shell game". I can only imagine how my friends across the aisle feel about it.
Julie is a former Air Force officer and professional project manager turned web writer. She spent four years at the Pentagon and five years in New York City, and her suburban life in Colorado seems pastoral by comparison. She's no political pundit, but she is an objective thinker in a sea of partisan propagandists. She writes for The Mom Slant, Cool Mom Picks, and is co-founder of The Parent Bloggers Network.
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