Publications / Policy Memo

Separate War Funding Still Makes No Sense

By / 4.4.2011

On Friday, I spent an hour or so with Senate staffers selling the merits of ending the war funding supplemental bills. We remain mired in the midst of budget negotiations, and my aim was to get Hill staff to keep in mind the bigger picture while they’re in the midst of scrutinizing every line-item.

As I state in the paper, as well as the op-ed in Politico that accompanied it, the goal of ending war funding bills is simple: as the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan have long been predictable (save the troop surge in Afghanistan, but even that isn’t a huge outlier), we should be paying for our military operations at the same time and with the same Congressional scrutiny as the rest of the Defense budget. Currently, we pass separate budgets to pay for what have become known as “Overseas Contingency Operations”, which essentially writes a blank check to the Pentagon, reduces Congressional oversight, and creates uncomfortable votes for Democrats.

The issue remains both valid and pressing. If policymakers want to demonstrate their fiscal chops in the current environment, I suggest a read. Here’s a excerpt:

Supplemental war funding appropriations are hardly new, beginning in World War II. When used correctly, the process serves as a vital tool that delivers timely funding to America’s fighting men and women. In the initial stages of combat, supplemental appropriations are extraordinarily useful in the face of the lengthy Congressional budget process, which does not allow for unanticipated military spending. Typically, the supplemental funds pay for pre-deployment costs, servicemembers’ transportation to the warzone, combat operations, equipment needs, and military construction. Without this tool, the Pentagon would essentially be forced to sacrifice long-term projects to meet immediate wartime needs.

Here’s the rub: Under the Bush administration, allegedly “emergency” supplemental appropriations for war costs became routine avenues for backdoor spending. Their opaque nature and lack of oversight have created a propensity to fund low-priority programs that has effectively eroded any sense of fiscal discipline at the Pentagon, bloating military spending. We must put an end to the practice.