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Controversy Over Pentagon Spending Plan

The emergency request of at least $127 billion is criticized as a wish list. The military cites a big need to buy equipment.

November 29, 2006|Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is preparing an emergency spending proposal that could be larger and broader than any since the Sept. 11 attacks, covering not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but extending to other military operations connected to the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The spending plans may push the Defense Department into conflict with Democrats as they take control of Capitol Hill in January. Democrats had been planning to limit the emergency "supplemental" spending measures that have funded the wars in favor of the regular federal budget process, which affords greater oversight and congressional control.

Congressional and military officials have said the Pentagon is considering a request of $127 billion to $150 billion in new emergency war spending, the largest such request since the special spending measures were begun in 2001. So far, Congress has allocated $495 billion for Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism-related efforts.

Even within the Pentagon, the spending request is generating controversy. The Pentagon was due to forward its request to the White House by about Nov. 15. But a senior Defense Department official said that the decision has been delayed and that Pentagon officials have asked Army and Air Force officials to provide more justification for their spending demands.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
War funding: An article in Wednesday's Section A about the Pentagon's war funding request misspelled the last name of Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley as Mosley.

The services have been pushing to increase the size of the supplemental appropriation in order to replace equipment, and they have argued that the overall military budget is too small given the demands on the armed forces.

Pentagon officials would not comment on the budget figures, which are due to be made public in February.

The upcoming request, added to the $70 billion already allocated for next year, would easily exceed the annual cost of the Vietnam War at its height. Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. spent $121 billion on the Vietnam War in 1968, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Still, the overall cost of the Vietnam War -- about $663 billion adjusted for inflation -- is still larger than the combined costs of the fighting thus far in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the research service.

The next request stands to be larger partly because of new rules laid out in an Oct. 25 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England. Rather than strictly limiting spending to Iraq and Afghanistan costs, the memo said the military services could include costs associated with operations that are part of the larger war on terrorism.

Previously, the military portion of the supplemental spending measures has been used almost exclusively for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. England's memo would allow the military to include a greater number of expenses more loosely tied to the actual wars, such as new military weapons systems and training exercises.

Critics of the Pentagon budget process say the memo has encouraged the services to inflate their requests.

"The England memo basically said, 'Let her rip,' " said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project and a former congressional budget aide. "Anything goes, as long as you can put it under the pretext of not only Iraq or Afghanistan but the global war on terror."

The cost and approach of the spending request both are likely to meet with resistance in Congress. Democratic congressional aides said the new majority on Capitol Hill probably will push back against a request higher than $100 billion.

"This was a dream list for the military," said one aide, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because the Pentagon has not formalized its request and because some members of Congress believe it is premature to comment publicly.

Democrats said a supplemental of $80 billion to $100 billion was more realistic. Both House and Senate aides say they want to push in the opposite direction of the Pentagon, moving money out of the supplemental and into the regular budget.

"We are going to show more oversight," said another Democratic aide.

But Democrats acknowledged that it would be difficult to move most of the costs to the regular budget without forcing massive cuts elsewhere.

Though there will be more scrutiny of the Pentagon requests, and the more elaborate spending proposals could be nixed, there is little doubt a large supplemental will be approved, some Democratic aides said.

"People will grouse that they are loading up the supplemental, but they will be hard-pressed to say no because they realize the services need the equipment," said the Democratic aide.

According to the England memo, the Pentagon wants to include money in the supplemental to replace equipment destroyed in combat or run down by accelerated wear and tear. More controversially, it also allows the services to replace old equipment with new models -- actions historically subject to the normal budget review process.

Defense Department officials declined to lay out specifics about what expenditures would be allowed in the next supplemental spending bill.

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