Less than two weeks after Congress approved nearly $11 billion for the war in Yugoslavia, the White House and congressional leaders have begun discussing the need for additional "emergency" funding to continue the air war or, possibly, to send in ground troops.
The administration and Republicans have yet to discuss how much more would be needed for the war, which is drawing increased opposition on Capitol Hill. But to assuage GOP concerns that the two-month-old war will exhaust U.S. defense resources and set back congressional efforts to boost overall military readiness, the White House signaled a willingness to continue to finance the war out of the budget surplus rather than stay within the spending limits agreed to earlier.
"There's a fairly strong feeling within the Armed Services Committee, GOP budget leaders and moderate and conservative Democrats that the Kosovo war should not come out of a highly strained defense budget," a senior House Democratic aide said yesterday.
The administration addressed the future spending issue last week in a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). At the time, the House was preparing to take up a fiscal 2000 defense authorization bill containing GOP language that would have cut off funding for the war after Sept. 30.
In the face of a White House veto threat, Hastert agreed to drop the Kosovo language, which infuriated House conservatives and touched off a revolt on the floor. In return, Hastert demanded assurances from the administration that the war would not undermine plans for a major defense buildup.
Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob "Jack" Lew wrote to Hastert May 26 that the administration would seek supplemental funding for the war "to the extent that these requirements exceed an amount that could be managed within the normal reprogramming process without harming military readiness.
"We, of course, will work with the Congress to ensure that any contingency requirements are fully funded, as well as to ensure that other priorities -- such as military readiness and modernization -- are protected," Lew wrote.
House GOP and Democratic aides said yesterday they interpreted the exchange as a clear indication the administration will seek additional emergency funding -- which allows use of the surplus -- for the war.
NATO is debating several options, including deployment of ground troops in the embattled Kosovo province -- either to drive out Yugoslav military forces or, if there is a negotiated settlement, to protect returning ethnic Albanian refugees.
Whatever the outcome, Congress anticipates huge additional costs. But with Republicans divided over the war and some Democrats troubled by NATO strategy, funding ground troops would be problematic.
"The sentiment in the House is against a ground war," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. "If the president wants to send up a supplemental to fund a ground war, it would meet with stiff resistance from all quarters of Congress."
Late yesterday, the administration refused to rule in or out more emergency spending before the end of the year. "This [letter] is a simple statement of process," said OMB spokeswoman Linda Ricci. "If people [in Congress] are deriving conclusions of policy from this statement, then they are reading too much into it."
Ricci said that the emergency supplemental passed by Congress May 20, providing nearly twice as much as the $6 billion initially sought by the administration, "fully funds the current campaign through the end of the fiscal year."
"Of course, regarding fiscal 2000, we are not in a position to project the level of needs in the coming fiscal year," she said.