Real deadline for Iraq war money is May
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer 6 minutes
WASHINGTON - The real deadline for Congress to provide
more money for the war in Iraq is several weeks beyond
the April 15 deadline cited by President Bush and
Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Pentagon can take several penny-pinching steps
without harming troop readiness or other dire
consequences predicted by the Bush administration
until Congress actually comes up with the money.
Mid-April is about when $70 billion provided by
Congress for the war will run out. After that,
Pentagon accountants will move money around in the
department's more than half-trillion dollar budget to
make sure operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not
The Army, Gates testified this past week, "will be
forced to consider" altering training schedules for
reserves and units to be deployed to Iraq and
Afghanistan, as well as delays in repairing equipment
and renovating barracks.
The steps under consideration include borrowing from
training, maintenance, personnel and procurement funds
set to be spent later in the budget year, which runs
through September. They have become routine in recent
The money is repaid, usually with minimal disruption,
when the president signs the war spending bill. But
you might not realize that, given the recent rhetoric
from the White House.
"If Congress does not approve the emergency funding
for our troops by April the 15th, our men and women in
uniform will face significant disruptions, and so will
their families," Bush said March 23.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday,
"Every day that the Congress fails to act on this
request causes our military hardship and impacts
Such criticism was scarce when the GOP-controlled
Congress was tardy in providing war dollars last year.
At the time, there was a warning about "serious
impacts" if the money was delayed further, but it came
in a little-noticed letter from the White House budget
office. Congress ignored the warning and went on
Last May and June, when $66 billion in Iraq and
Afghanistan money was late, the Army faced a "near
disastrous 'cash flow' experience," Gen. Peter
Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, told Congress
But there was no effect on troop readiness and
training missions, nor delays in rotating troops out
of Iraq. Instead, the Army froze civilian hiring,
fired some temporary employees, stopped nonemergency
travel and delayed purchases of information
technology, Schoomaker said.
That is why many lawmakers view Bush's April 15
deadline more as a target date. The private signal
many are getting from the Pentagon is that mid-May is
when the money will be needed to avoid disrupting
activities such as training missions.
"The president is once again attempting to mislead the
public and create an artificial atmosphere of
anxiety," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(news, bio, voting record), D-Nev.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in
a report the Pentagon has only begun to start
"reprogramming" money between various accounts to make
sure overseas operations are not disrupted.
The Army, which has the biggest duty in Iraq, can last
into the summer by using this transfer authority. That
is especially true when shifting money set to be spent
in the current budget year's fourth quarter, from July
"They can move china around pretty much until we get
to the fourth quarter," said Gordon Adams, a former
Clinton administration budget official who specializes
in defense issues. "So into June, while it's painful,
Democratic Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record)
of Pennsylvania, who heads a subcommittee that
oversees defense spending, said the real deadline
facing lawmakers is about June 1. That is in line with
last year's experience, when a $94.4 billion bill
providing war money did not pass Congress until early
Nonetheless, Democrats are a little nervous about
leaving Washington on their long-scheduled Easter
vacation without first delivering the $120
billion-plus Iraq spending bill.
Negotiators have not even meet to reconcile
differences between House and Senate versions of the
spending bill. Bush has pledged to veto the measure
because it has timelines for a U.S. exit from Iraq and
nonwar spending added by lawmakers.
Reid told colleagues on Thursday that aides from both
parties and both the House and Senate will be working
on a compromise during the congressional break.
The House, however, does not return until April 16.
Even if a tentative deal is reached by then, getting
it through the House and Senate and to Bush would take
a week at a minimum. If Bush follows through on his
veto, a new bill would have to be written and put to
With that ticking clock in mind, the White House is
taking a harder line with Congress now that Democrats
are in control.
"Day 53 And Counting Since The President Submitted
Emergency Supplemental Funding Request," read the
subtitle of a White House news release Friday.
Added White House spokeswoman Perino: "The president
was surprised to learn that Congress went on vacation today."