By EDWARD EPSTEIN
San Francisco Chronicle
February 25, 2006
Still Bush's use of an emergency budgeting technique that circumvents the normal budgeting and spending process has increasingly angered members of Congress and, critics say, is being used to hide costs of the fighting.
"I think a lot of congressmen on both sides of the aisle are loath to vote against a spending measure that is seen as being for the troops," said Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, a think tank that has criticized Bush's Iraq policy and his budgeting for that war.
"Even though there are a lot of misgivings about the president's course, few will vote against it," added Katulis.
But some are trying to provoke more of a debate as Congress considers the latest in a growing series of special spending requests for military and reconstruction operations in the two countries. The National Priorities Project released a state-by-state, city-by-city breakdown of how much the Iraq fighting will cost if the new supplemental is approved intact.
The figures cite a $40.6 billion cost so far for California residents, for instance, including $1.1 billion for San Francisco and $404.1 million for Oakland.
"It's important we realize how much the war is costing in budgetary terms. Every dollar we spend on the Iraq war is a dollar we can't spend somewhere else, or not spend," said the Massachusetts-based group's research director, Anita Dancs.
"I fear Congress will do the same thing as in the past. It would be appropriate to have a more vibrant debate over all aspects of the money we're spending."
The Republican-led House and Senate have made clear their unhappiness over the Bush administration's continued use of supplemental appropriations requests to fund the war in Afghanistan, which U.S. forces entered in late 2001 to oust the Taliban government and al Qaeda, and in Iraq, which was invaded in March 2003. The White House sent the first emergency spending request a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Supplemental spending requests are usually designed for emergencies, such as recovery from natural disasters. In addition to its request for more war money, the White House has asked for $19.8 billion to pay for Hurricane Katrina storm recovery.
"The time to treat (the Iraq war) as an emergency is well past. It hides the true costs of that conflict," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a hearing.
"And last year we were pretty clear on both sides of the aisle in this committee, as well as in the other body, that we think supplemental funding needs to stop ... Congress and the American people must be able to see the full costs of the war, and it must be done through the regular process and not through supplementals."
The Iraq-Afghanistan request is on top of Bush's plan for a $439 billion Pentagon budget for the coming fiscal year, a 7 percent increase from the current year. In addition to the $72.4 billion special spending request, Bush asked Congress in his proposed $2.8 trillion budget to set aside $50 billion more for Iraqi operations in the coming year.
Rumsfeld rejected the idea that Bush is doing anything unusual.
"The president's budget provides for the basic needs of the department ... It has been a long-standing practice of the Congress and the executive branch to agree that a supplemental is an appropriate way to fund a war. The suggestion that that confuses things or doesn't make everything clear, it strikes me, is just simply not consistent with the facts. The budget's there for all to see," he said.
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