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Is there a new “emergency” for the war budget? November 12, 2009

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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by Dr. Gordon Adams and Rebecca Williams

The Obama administration repeatedly criticized the Bush administration’s over-reliance on emergency supplemental budget requests to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From FY 2001 to FY 2009, more than $800 billion was funded through supplemental appropriations for the Defense (050) budget alone.  Once in office the new administration pledged to return to the “regular order” with war spending included in its budget requests for international affairs and defense, giving Congress the opportunity to deal with the requests through the regular appropriations cycle.  Understandably, the administration violated this principle for FY 2009, as war costs had not been fully funded for that year and the supplemental request had already been prepared by the outgoing administration.

In keeping with the promise of budget integrity, the administration requested and received $130 billion for FY 2010 war costs. The war bill was slimmed down, more clearly focused on direct war spending, and subjected to greater congressional scrutiny.  On the verge of passage, this fall, however, it looks like FY 2010 war costs may not have been fully-funded, and the administration is going to have to violate the principle again.  Moreover, the FY 2011 “plug” of $50 billion for military costs is starting to look like an underestimate, which means the February budget may have a bigger war bill than projected.

Rumors are already circulating that an emergency supplemental request will be needed this year.  It may be inevitable.   The administration is about to decide to increase the size of the force in Afghanistan, but that augmentation was not built into the regular FY 2010 “base” budget or into the $130 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).  The significant costs associated with troop increases (between $500 million and a $1 billion for every 1,000 troops deployed) would mean that a 35,000 troop deployment could cost as much as $35 billion that is not in any current budget.

Force withdrawals from Iraq could, some would say, offset this cost.  But those forces are going to move slowly out of Iraq, meaning the savings are not immediate.  Moreover, although reducing troops would appear to lower costs,  costs actually rise in the near term.  US troop levels in Iraq are not expected to change until after the parliamentary elections in January, but the Army estimates it would cost $12- $13 billion a year for at least 2 years to repair, replace, and rebuild the equipment used in Iraq once US forces begin to leave.  According to a GAO report, additional war-related costs could also include: closing the large number of installations in Iraq; proper management of hazardous materials and waste; and investment in training and equipping to return units to levels capable of performing “full spectrum operations.”  These costs were not fully covered in the FY 2010 budget request and will need to be funded.

One way or another, it looks increasingly like another FY 2010 supplemental is coming, and the FY 2011 war bill will be higher than expected.

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