Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pentagon war funds need not urgent: Congress memo

Pentagon war funds need not urgent: Congress memo
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has enough money on hand to finance the Iraq war through most of July, according to a congressional study that challenges President George W. Bush's assertions that an infusion of funds is needed more urgently.

According to a Congressional Research Service memo dated March 28 and sent to the Senate Budget Committee, "The Army could finance the O&M (operations and maintenance) of both its baseline and war program ... through most of July 2007" by shifting around money in existing accounts.

The memo said it based its projections "using Army and other data."

That assessment was at odds with Bush and some of his war managers, who have said that Congress could undermine U.S. troops and the war in Iraq if it did not approve approximately $100 billion within weeks.

"The Democrats are distorting and hiding behind a CRS memo on the eve of Congress' spring vacation to distract from their failure to send the President a responsible bill he can sign," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "It's time for the Democrats to send the president a bill that funds the troops without forcing retreat, handcuffing our commanders, or adding billions of dollars in pork spending."

Fratto warned that a delay in funding was already affecting troops.

"Yesterday, the Department of Defense notified Congress that in order to meet the force protection needs of the Marine Corps and the Army, we are borrowing funds from other important Marine and Army procurement programs," Fratto said.

Bush requested the emergency funds in early February and Congress is in the process of writing bills providing more money for the war than the president requested.

But Democrats have added conditions to the money, including setting timetables for withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq. Bush wants the money without the conditions and has threatened to veto either bill passed by the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House panel on Thursday that after April 15, without emergency funding, the Army would have to begin curtailing some troop training, which "could over time delay their ability to go back into combat."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that if the funds were not approved by May 15, the Army might have to extend some soldiers' tours, because other units would not be ready, and reduce equipment repair work, among other things.


If Congress sends Bush a bill that he vetoes, lawmakers would then have to go through a potentially time-consuming process of rewriting and passing a new war-funding bill.

The administration tried to turn up the pressure on Congress on Friday, when White House spokeswoman Dana Perino criticized lawmakers for taking a spring vacation without making adequate progress on the emergency war funds.

"Every day that the Congress fails to act on this request causes our military hardship and impacts readiness," Perino said.

But according to the memo, "the Army could finance its O&M expenses through the end of May by tapping $52.6 billion in O&M funding already provided by Congress."

Furthermore, with congressional approval, the Pentagon could temporarily transfer money out of other accounts, giving the Army "almost two additional months" to conduct its regular operations and the war.

Since invading Iraq in March 2003 to depose then President Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has refused to include in annual budgets the full estimated cost of the war each year. Instead, it has submitted "emergency" requests that many lawmakers complained have made it difficult to do proper oversight of the war.

(Additional reporting by Kristin Roberts)