President Bush, flanked by representatives of military support organizations and military family members, urges Congress to approve additional Iraq and Afghanistan war spending at a White House event, October 22, 2007 Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
by Frank James
Another day, another chance for both President Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress to try and score points with their respective political bases over Iraq.
Bush came to the White House’s Roosevelt Room to announce he had asked Congress for $46 billion more in emergency funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for fiscal 2008. Congressional Quarterly reports that would come on top of the $196.4 billion in fiscal 2008 spending he had asked for earlier in the year.
The president sought to raise the pressure on the Democrats by saying that the money is largely for the troops’ daily needs, to help protect them from improvised explosive devices, for instance, as well the continued training of those Iraqi troops who will eventually replace Americans.
I know some in Congress are against the war, and are seeking ways to demonstrate that opposition. I recognize their position, and they should make their views heard. But they ought to make sure our troops have what it takes to succeed. Our men and women on the front lines should not be caught in the middle of partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C. I often hear that war critics oppose my decisions, but still support the troops. Well, I'll take them at their word -- and this is the chance to show it, that they support the troops.
Thus did the president attempt to hamstring the legislative branch from exercising the one power both Democrats and Republicans agree Congress indisputably possesses when it comes to winding down unpopular wars—the power of the purse. Bush's formula was that withholding any of the president's requested equals not supporting the troops. It didn't take much to envision the campaign ads that could run against Democrats on this theme.
Meanwhile, Democrats took the opportunity to portray the president as sacrificing domestic priorities for a misbegotten war he on which he was willing to spare no expense.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the president’s recent veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, to criticize the president’s additional war-spending request. Democrats have sought to demonstrate to Americans that the president’s priorities aren’t the same as theirs, and that there are significant opportunity costs to the Iraq War.
“Today the President is asking Congress for more than $40 billion in additional funds for the war in Iraq and for Afghanistan. That would bring the total he has asked for in emergency funds for this year to nearly $200 billion – that’s $200 billion on top of the $450 billion in emergency funds we have already borrowed for the Iraq war.
“President Bush wants us to rubber stamp another $200 billion in war funds – all borrowed money, none of it paid for – for next year alone. But when we sent a bipartisan CHIP bill to his desk to provide health insurance for the children of working families, the President called it too expensive. Let’s remember, every dime of the money for CHIP was paid for.
“It’s no wonder the American people are frustrated. Democrats continue to fight for America’s priorities while the President continues investing only in his failed war strategy – even as most of his own Pentagon leadership is now on record saying that our ground forces are stretched dangerously thin because of the current Iraq strategy….
Where Congress goes from here is unclear. According to CQ:
Congress is not expected to pass a new war funding measure this calender year, although it will have to provide some additional money. Earlier this month, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, D-Wis., said he will not move a war funding bill out of his committee in 2007, saying the president must change his policy in Iraq before Obey will advance the bill.
Senate leaders have neither endorsed nor dismissed Obey’s plan, saying they are waiting for the revised request to make a decision on war spending.
Congress must provide some sort of spending to fund war operations over the next few months while Democrats and the administration continue to face off over Iraq.
Two primary options exist for providing this funding. The first is to allow the Defense Department to borrow against its base fiscal 2008 budget, but the appropriations bill (HR 3222) providing those funds has not been enacted.
That bill, or another appropriations measure, also could include enough emergency funding — a “bridge fund” — dedicated solely to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to last the military a few months. Congress has used bridge funding in the past…
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress has appropriated $610 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for operations launched shortly after the attacks to protect military bases, according the Congressional Research Service. Of that amount, CRS estimates, about $450 billion has been or will be used for operations in Iraq.