What happens when the war money's gone?
Military says funding could run out by June
By Peter Spiegel
Los Angeles Times
April 02. 2007 8:00AM
early a year ago, Army officials and their allies warned that a "disaster is
looming" because of congressional delays in passing a war spending bill.
Within weeks, funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would be
"completely exhausted," they claimed.
Because of political wrangling, the funding was late. But the war effort was
largely unaffected. Now, with the president and Congress at odds again over
funding, questions have arisen again over when the war money truly runs out.
This time, far more political baggage is attached.
Congressional Democrats have passed a nearly $100 billion emergency spending
bill, but the money is conditioned on troop withdrawals by next year.
President Bush has vowed to veto such a measure.
"The clock is ticking for our troops in the field," Bush said last week.
The administration says the Pentagon has been forced to raid key weapons
programs to find money for the armored vehicles deployed troops need. And
Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that by mid-April, training for units
going to Iraq and Afghanistan could be hampered.
But White House and Pentagon officials have begun to add caveats to such
And a senior Pentagon official, who like others spoke on condition of
anonymity when discussing internal debates, said Gates was warned by his
staff to be cautious with "doomsday" predictions, as the military always
seems to find money for the war even while saying it can't tighten its belt
"My experience is there are always two more holes left in that belt," the
Wars aside, the Pentagon is given nearly $500 billion a year by Congress.
But that money is committed to the daily operation of the nation's armed
services as well as the department's weapons programs, and its use tightly
restricted under federal laws.
Even the Pentagon's toughest critics acknowledge that without timely war
funding, the department must tie itself into knots to find accounts to tap.
"They raid accounts where they have some flexibility and 'cash flow' that to
Iraq operations," said Winslow Wheeler, a former congressional budget aide
and critic of Pentagon spending practices. "Sometimes that's quite harmful,
because they've canceled training or something. That's not a good solution,
but they can do it."
More troubling to many in the military is that by starving forces not
directly tied to the war, operations responsible for potential trouble spots
outside the Middle East might find themselves short-handed.
"The really dangerous thing is, Can you continue to support the global war
on terrorism?" said the former Pentagon budget official. "And the answer is,
yeah, probably - marginally."
He added, "But what happens if you have another major combat operation? It
would just scare the bejesus out of me."
A senior Army official said the Army, if pressed, could make do until the
end of May with the $70 billion in funding it has in hand. The Congressional
Research Service, taking into account additional funds the military could
shift from elsewhere in the budget, estimated the Army could last through
most of July.
Most officials agreed the military ultimately would be able to find money to
support deployed troops. Still, they worry about short-term fixes
endangering long-term readiness.
"Everyone in a democracy wants to focus on the crisis; that's how we respond
as a nation," said a senior military official. "A small amount of investment
now prevents a crisis five years, 10 years down the road. It's a much harder
sell, but we need to prevent the train from wrecking."
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