Bartlett presses Sec. Gates on Libya costs
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who has become an outspoken critic of the U.S. involvement in Libya, pressed Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a hearing Thursday to offer clarity on who is leading the rebel forces fighting Moammar Gadhafi and also how much the effort, which began March 19, will cost American taxpayers.
“Are we now aiding and abetting the same organizations that we are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq?” asked Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.
“To be honest, other than a relative handful of leaders, we don’t have vision into those who have risen against” Gadhafi, Gates said. “In a way, speaking of the quote-unquote opposition is a misnomer. It is very disparate. It is very scattered and probably each element has its own agenda.”
Bartlett, who has criticized Obama for not seeking congressional approval for launching the attacks in Libya – and who previously called the effort “an affront to the Constitution” – also pressed Gates on the cost of the Libyan effort. Bartlett introduced legislation, the “Protect America from U.S. Military Expenses in Libya Act,” that would require the administration to recommend budget cuts to offset the cost of the U.S. involvement in Libya.
“Many people feel that this is an unconstitutional and illegal war,” said Bartlett, who was speaking at a hearing of the full House Armed Services Committee. “But I think everyone agrees that the [cost] shouldn't be borne by taxpayers.” Bartlett asked Gates whether the administration could meet a June 1 deadline proposed in the bill to identify budget cuts.
Gates said the price tag on the Libyan engagement is currently about $550 million. And, as the U.S. shifts responsibility to NATO, he estimated the cost would run about $40 million a month. When Bartlett pressed him on the timeline to identify ways to cover that cost, Gates demurred.
“I'd have to consult with the White House,” he said.