Thursday, July 27, 2006

House Democrats seek more Army funding

House Democrats seek more Army funding
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of Democrats in the House of Representatives on Wednesday called for at least $10 billion in additional funds to help the U.S. Army rebuild resources depleted by the Iraq war, now in its fourth year.

In a letter to President George W. Bush, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton cited Army assessments showing that "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready to complete their assigned wartime mission." Skelton is the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The Army is estimating a funding shortfall of $17 billion next year for repairing and replacing equipment used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democrats said.

They asked Bush to submit an emergency request to Congress for the added funds by October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

If the emergency request is not submitted, Democrats this fall will push for a $10 billion increase in a "bridge fund" for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that is included in a fiscal 2007 Pentagon spending bill moving through Congress. That fund currently would be set at $50 billion, with the expectation that another $50 billion or so for the wars would be sought early next year.

Rep. John Murtha, the pro-defense Pennsylvania Democrat who stunned Washington last year by calling for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, said most Army units do not have adequate equipment and ammunition to train on before going to war. "Under-trained units have higher rates of casualties" once they enter combat, Murtha told reporters.

He said in order to patch the funding shortfall, some Army bases in the United States have stopped using ammunition in training and stopped cutting grass for the rest of the summer while also suspending custodial services, except for cleaning restrooms.

At the Red River Army depot in Texas, Murtha said there was no money to repair 2,500 Humvees, trucks and other vehicles used in training.

The funding shortfall comes as Congress is considering cutting back on Bush's fiscal 2007 defense request by as much as $9 billion in order to add funds to some domestic programs during this congressional election year.

By September 30, the end of this fiscal year, the United States will have spent about $450 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The combat has contributed to huge U.S. budget deficits.