Top Armed Services Republican urges Gates to advocate for war-funding bill

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee is pressing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to advocate for the speedy passage of the war-funding bill.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Gates Friday urging him to “communicate the Department’s need for this funding without delay and brief the Congress explaining why urgent action is needed.”

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Republicans and Democrats have been locking horns this week over the approval of the supplemental request after Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the need for Congress to send additional money for the war in Afghanistan was not as urgent as it had been earlier in the year. The Pentagon requested $33 billion for the wars Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of fiscal year 2010.

“It appears that some in Congress question the urgency of passing the wartime supplemental appropriation,” McKeon wrote to Gates.

“This view conflicts with information the Armed Services Committee has received from the Department; it is my understanding that failure to provide supplemental appropriations before the end of this spring will undermine the Department’s operations, result in hollowing out of personnel accounts, and force problematic reprogramming actions.”

The Senate passed before Memorial Day a nearly $60 billion supplemental funding bill, which includes several non-defense items, but the House has yet to act. Congressional sources said that the House may vote on the supplemental as early as next week.

Gates has been on extended overseas travel so he hasn’t weighed in on the developments.

In February the Pentagon had said the military would need an additional $33 billion by Memorial Day.

“We are driving at 60 miles an hour toward a brick wall,” Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters at the time.

War funding as well as strategy would be on the front-burner next week when the head of Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, give the Senate and House armed services panels an update on the Afghanistan missions.