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Senate Targets Supplementals

‘Emergency’ Bills Draw Scrutiny

Senate appropriators have inserted language into the fiscal 2006 supplemental spending bill chastising the Bush administration for using the now twice-yearly “emergency war” supplementals as a shadow appropriations and policy process, warning the Senate will not consider future requests that do not include a full budget justification to appropriators.

Although budget hawks in the House and Senate have long criticized using the supplemental spending process and its attendant waivers from spending limits to prosecute the war on terror and campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senate leaders and rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats also have soured on the process.

Noting longstanding Appropriations Committee concerns with supplemental procurement spending requests by the military, the committee for the first time puts the administration on notice that “Congress will not be able to fully support [future] supplemental requests unless it is provided with the same detailed justification and program materials that it receives with the annual request,” according to the committee report.

A senior GOP aide said last week that Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and other leaders support the Appropriations Committee’s decision to seek a full accounting for future supplemental requests from the administration.

In fact, both House and Senate appropriators have repeatedly expressed concerns with how the Defense Department’s use of supplemental spending bills — which Congress has traditionally held to a lower level of expected spending justifications — to pay for either routine maintenance and procurement costs or projects and policies that have not received Congressional approval. Additionally, Members in both chambers, as well as members of the Senate’s GOP leadership, have become increasingly unwilling to allow the White House to use the supplemental process to keep the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “off budget” and are instead insisting that it be accounted for as part of the normal appropriations process, Senate aides said.

“It’s about time to budget for the majority of the war inside the regular appropriations process. Congress and the next few administrations will need to make hard choices about military spending priorities. When it comes to long-term planning, juggling priorities through supplementals and regular spending bills hurts the department and servicemen,” a senior GOP aide said.

According to an April 7 Congressional Research Service report on the bill, the administration’s “emergency” request for the Department of Defense is riddled with instances in which the Bush administration does not provide adequate justifications for spending requests. For instance, CRS noted that Operation and Maintenance funding increases are “difficult to explain ... because DOD did not show the funding level received in the [2005] bridge supplemental in its justification materials. ... From DOD’s justification material, the source or rationale for other funding increases or for continuation of FY2005 levels for other areas is not apparent.”

Similarly, in the area of procurement spending, CRS noted that DOD asked for $16.4 billion in new spending without providing a rationale for that increase. “Although DOD’s request includes descriptions of individual procurement items, it does not give any rationale or explain whether funding requests for various items reflect battlefield losses, washout rates for worn equipment, equipment provided for state-side units whose equipment remains overseas, or additional gear for deployed units. This makes it difficult to assess whether funding levels are too high, too low or about right.”

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