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2008

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Bill to Fund Iraq War Until Mid-2009
Wednesday, 09 July 2008 02:08
by Jason Leopold

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a $162 billion emergency spending bill late Thursday to continue funding the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan well into 2009, without a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

The bill, approved 92-6, was engineered over the past two months by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and brings the total cost for the conflicts to about $650 billion—more than $400 billion for Iraq alone.

The legislation also includes tens of billions of dollars in domestic spending, including an $8 billion extension of unemployment insurance, $63 billion in funding for a new GI Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, $5.8 billion to rebuild levees in Louisiana, $4.6 billion to refurbish veterans hospitals, and billions to fund other projects. The combined total to fund the wars and the domestic initiatives is $258 billion.

President George W. Bush, who initially said he would veto a supplemental bill that surpassed the $108 billion he said was needed for Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-Virginia, said Thursday evening that "despite the positive measures for struggling Americans, our veterans, and their families included in this amendment, I deeply regret that this legislation will go to President Bush without the necessary checks to ensure that the war in Iraq is not open-ended."

"The majority of the American people have come to see this war as a costly mistake that needs to be brought to a close," Byrd added. "This legislation brings us no closer to that goal."

The House passed the emergency supplemental appropriations bill last week by a vote of 268-155. The domestic spending measure was approved by a vote of 416-12. Domestic spending was included in a separate amendment and voted on separately. The Senate voted on war funding and domestic spending in a single vote.

The legislation prohibits the Bush administration from establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. A report by The Public Record earlier this month showed that the Bush administration drafted a plan in November 2003 to establish a permanent U.S. military presence in the region.

Since the electoral victories in November 2006, the Democratic-controlled Congress has approved more than $500 billion in emergency spending bills for Iraq and Afghanistan without the benchmarks that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other leaders said they would demand.

The Senate Armed Services Committee released a long-awaited report three weeks ago that said President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney knowingly lied about the threat Iraq posed to the U.S., it’s ties to al-Qaeda, and the country’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, in order to win support from Congress and the public for a U.S. led invasion in March of 2003.

More than 4,100 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the war. On Thursday, three U.S. Marines and more than 30 Iraqis were killed in twin bomb attacks in Anbar Province and Mosul.

Less than a week after the Armed Services Committee released its report, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush. The impeachment articles were sent to the House Judiciary Committee. Kucinich, also a former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, told The Public Record he had urged Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to hold a vote on the impeachment articles within 30 days. Kucinich has vowed to introduce another round of impeachment articles if Democrats try and kill the matter.

In November 2006 when Democrats won control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, Rep. Nancy Pelosi explained the significance behind the record voter turnout that helped shift the balance of power in Washington.

“People voted for change and they voted for Democrats who will take our country in a new direction,” Pelosi said during a victory speech in San Francisco on Nov. 8, 2006.

Report Raised Questions About Pentagon Spending

But Democrats have failed to live up to that promise. Moreover, Democrats have not heeded calls to rein in the Bush administration's use of emergency supplemental appropriations, despite repeated warnings to do so, which likely resulted in the waste of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service, the investigative arm of Congress.

The most recent report by the agency, issued May 30, says more than 90 percent of Pentagon funds to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were provided as “emergency funds in supplemental or additional appropriations,” which is exempt from ceilings “applying to discretionary spending in Congress’s annual budget resolutions.”

“Some members [of Congress] have argued that continuing to fund ongoing operations in supplementals reduces congressional oversight,” says the report, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Since 9/11.” “Generally, much of foreign and diplomatic funding has been funded in regular rather than emergency appropriations.”

The Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and CRS “have all testified to Congress about the limited transparency in DOD’ war cost estimating and reporting,” the report says.

“While DOD has provided considerably more justification material for its war cost requests beginning with the [fiscal year] 2007 Supplemental, many questions remain difficult to answer — such as the effect of changes in troop levels on costs — and there continue to be unexplained discrepancies in DOD’s war cost reports.”

At least a half-dozen reports have been issued on Iraq and Afghanistan war funding since Democrats regained control of Congress in November 2006, all of which called into question whether the Pentagon had provided Congress with an accurate picture of its costs for the so-called Global War on Terror. The cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have reached more than $12.3 billion a month--$9 billion of which has been is being spent in Iraq—more than double what it costs to fund both wars in 2004. It costs taxpayers $390,000 annually in Iraq alone to fund a single soldier sent to the region. In total, Congress has appropriated about $700 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, $524 billion of which was earmarked for Iraq. The figures include equipment, pay, and medical costs paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The CRS report says its figures differ somewhat from the Pentagon’s figures because some expenses have not been reported by the department.

“Although these figures capture DOD’s contractual obligations for pay, goods, and services, they do not give a complete picture because they do not capture all appropriated funds or all funds obligated. DOD acknowledges that these figures do not capture over $35 billion in classified activities,” the report says. “The total cost for all three operations — Iraq, Afghanistan, and other GWOT and enhanced security — has risen steeply since the 9/11 attacks primarily because of higher DOD spending in Iraq. Annual DOD funding are growing by an additional 75% between FY2004 and FY2007. The level in FY2008 [is] 160% higher or more than one-and-one-half times larger than FY2004.”

“Although some of the factors behind the rapid increase in [Department of Defense] funding are known — the growing intensity of operations, additional force protection gear and equipment, substantial upgrades of equipment, converting units to modular configurations, and new funding to train and equip Iraqi security forces — these elements do not appear to be enough to explain the size of and continuation of increases. Although DOD included more extensive justification of its FY2007 and FY2008 supplemental requests, it still provides little explanation of how changes in force levels would affect funding levels,” the CRS report says.

Moreover, the CRS report says that the Bush administration has consistently failed to provide Congress with “long-term estimates of costs despite a statutory reporting requirement that the President submit a cost estimate for FY2006-FY2011 that was enacted in 2004.”

Additionally, the report says some of the funds the Pentagon asked for may not fall into the urgent needs category covered by the emergency supplemental.

“Some observers have questioned whether all of DOD’s war-related procurement reflects the stresses of war,” the report said. “For example, a recent CBO study found that more than 40% of the Army’s spending for reset — the repair and replacement of war-worn equipment — was not for replacing lost equipment or repairing equipment sent home. Instead, Army funds were spent to upgrade systems to increase capability, to buy equipment to eliminate longstanding shortfalls in inventory, to convert new units to a modular configuration, and to replace equipment stored overseas for contingencies.”

“War-justified procurement requests have increased substantially in recent years from $20.4 billion in FY2006 to $39.7 billion in FY2007 and $64.0 billion in FY2008. Although some of this increase may reflect additional force protection and replacement of “stressed” equipment, much may be in response to ...new guidance to fund requirements for the “longer war” rather than DOD’s traditional definition of war costs as strictly related to immediate war needs. For example, the Navy initially requested $450 million for six EA-18G aircraft, a new electronic warfare version of the F-18, and the Air Force $389 million for two Joint Strike Fighters, an aircraft just entering production; such new aircraft would not be delivered for about three years and so could not be used meet immediate war needs Other new aircraft in DOD’s supplemental request include CV-22 Ospreys and C-130J aircraft. In its March amendment to the FY2007 Supplemental, the Administration withdrew several of these requests, possibly in anticipation that Congress would cut these aircraft,” the report added.

A Pentagon spokesman said he was unfamiliar with the report and declined to comment.

Although the House bill passed last week funds the occupation of Iraq well into 2008, tracking future costs of both wars have proved troubling, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), because the Pentagon has not provided Congress with detailed information on costs incurred thus far. 
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