President Bush sent his $81.9 billion supplemental spending request to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to lawmakers on Valentine’s Day, but some conservative House Republicans, and Democrats, are giving the plan the cold shoulder.
The budgeting process and Bush’s requests for money for nonemergency programs have irritated some conservatives who want offsetting spending cuts and who objected to sending $200 million to the Palestinian Authority, and a $600 million increase in aid to countries hit by the tsunami last December also concerns Republican lawmakers.
“We are developing offsets and plan to ask the White House to recommend offsets,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC). “And we reserve right to offer amendments on the House floor to strike [spending] outright.”
Meanwhile, Democrats plan to use the bill to question Bush’s strategy in Iraq and complain that some of the spending, such as tsunami relief, was included only to make it politically difficult to oppose the bill.
Democrats also pointed to news reports that the Army said it planned to be in Iraq at least two more years and to the $343 billion, 10-year projected spending estimate released by the Congressional Budget Office as evidence that Bush’s spending plan is shortsighted.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement that she would support the bill but added, “Absent a long-term plan to secure the peace abroad and put our country back on the track of fiscal responsibility, this massive spending request only drives our country deeper into debt and deeper into Iraq.”
While most Republicans had not returned from their districts to review the bill, House Republican staffers expected House leaders to discuss the foreign aid and peacekeeping proposals at a meeting last night. Pence planned to present the RSC’s objections at the weekly House GOP conference meeting this morning.
A vote on a final package is expected before the Easter recess.
Republican aides questioned specific spending items, including the funding for the Palestinian Authority, which waives restrictions Congress had put in place in last year’s omnibus spending bill on how Palestinian officials could spend money from the United States. The spending conditions had been put in place when Yasser Arafat, chairman of the authority, was still alive.
Both Republican and Democratic aides said that requests for $780 million for U.N. peacekeeping missions, $200 million for costs incurred by coalition partners in Iraq and Afghanistan, $55 million for a war-crimes tribunal in Sudan, several billion dollars to restructure three Army brigades in Iraq and $658 billion to build a new embassy compound in Baghdad should have been included in Bush’s fiscal year 2006 budget request.
“It’s a little frustrating when the White House sends a budget one week ago that did not include funding foreign aid for Sudan and a week later it’s included in the supplemental,” Pence said. “We will do what we can to bring discipline to the process.”
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who visited Iraq last month, said, “Our preference is going to back to that practice [of including spending cuts]. We should start putting money in budget for these emergencies. We know they’re coming, and we ought to put them in the budget.”
House GOP aides questioned other items, such as spending $91,000 for the Air Force to pay bonuses for “language proficiency pay” and waiving on the $200,000 salary cap for 500 high-level federal employees working in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Congress has accepted each of the Bush administration’s supplemental spending requests, which total $280 billion since Sept. 11, 2001, to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, Congress gave the administration an additional $25 billion to bridge a funding shortfall in November and December; of that, $23 billion will be spent this year.
In April 2003, Congress passed a supplemental bill of $78.5 billion, and in November 2003 Congress passed an additional $87 billion, of which $18.4 billion paid for reconstruction in Iraq.
For months before the war, administration officials had said the cost could not be estimated, and administration officials who estimated the war’s cost in public, such as economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, who said the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion, were fired.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress, “It’s not knowable what a war or conflict like that would cost.”
“In general, when it comes to emergency funding,” said Kline, “we have to do a better job of putting that in the budget beforehand.”