More Funds Sought for Iraq and Afghanistan
Friday, April 10, 2009
President Obama sent Congress an $83.4 billion spending request yesterday to fund his administration's strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan through the summer, in what officials promised would be the last such off-budget proposal to pay for the wars.
Obama has pledged to send more troops and diplomats to turn around the faltering Afghan effort, while drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq through next year.
Administration officials and others have derided the use of emergency troop-funding bills, noting that they are not subject to usual budget ceilings and often have been rushed through Congress. Since September 2001, Congress has approved 17 emergency funding measures for the two wars, for a total of $822 billion, the White House said.
"We must break that recent tradition and include future military costs in the regular budget so that we have an honest, more accurate and fiscally responsible estimate of federal spending," Obama said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that accompanied the request.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the special measure was needed because the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had been funded through only half of the fiscal year.
"This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
Obama urged lawmakers not to add "unnecessary spending" to the measure and to return it to him quickly. Congressional staffers said the White House asked lawmakers to pass the bill by Memorial Day.
Some antiwar Democrats were expected to balk at the multibillion-dollar request. But the measure was expected to pass with support from most Republicans and many Democrats.
"I believe that there is very broad bipartisan support in the Congress for the decisions the president has made with respect to both Iraq and Afghanistan," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters yesterday. "The alternative to the supplemental is a sudden and precipitous withdrawal [of U.S. troops] . . . from both places."
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said his party is "ready to work with the president to again ensure quick passage of a clean troop-funding bill. Micromanaging the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan from the U.S. Capitol is a recipe for disaster, and I hope my Democratic colleagues understand that."
But Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the proposal will "prolong our occupation of Iraq through at least the end of 2011, and it will deepen and expand our military presence in Afghanistan indefinitely. I cannot support either of these scenarios."
Nearly $76 billion of the request would go to the Defense Department, while about $7 billion would be sent to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
While most of the emergency funding is designated for military equipment and operations, the request also includes $1.6 billion for economic help and a "surge" of diplomatic and civilian personnel for Afghanistan, part of Obama's recently announced strategy for tackling the conflict there. The White House also asked for $1.4 billion for economic assistance and more diplomats and development experts for Pakistan.
The document seeks $800 million to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and assist people affected by the crisis in Gaza, and $400 million to address the impact of the financial crisis in developing countries. It includes nearly $90 million to safeguard "loose nukes" worldwide and dismantle North Korea's plutonium program. About $30 million would go toward closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a review of U.S. procedures there.
The request also calls for $66 million, recently announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to help buy three helicopters for Mexican anti-drug efforts.
If the request is approved, the total emergency funding for the wars in 2009 would be about $150 billion, compared with $171 billion in 2007 and $188 billion in 2008.
Staff writer Paul Kane and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.