Sunday, November 20, 2005

Put It (the War) on My Tab Please, Thanks

Recent discussion and readings about military budgeting prompted a closer look into how the defense budget addresses the finances of war. Conflict, it seems, is not afforded under annual budget requests. Rather, current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan-which cost $5-6 billion a month-are mostly financed through supplemental spending in addition to the $420 billion Pentagon budget (Higgs).

One must wonder that since the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are known to be ongoing for the next year(s) to come, why not put it directly into the budget? Companies spend millions on consultants to determine anticipated costs to incorporate into their upcoming budgets. Other government agencies do not act with this ad hoc fiscal behavior. This is not to say that other departments have as much on the line, but that budget officers from the smallest of agencies to the largest are trained to keep the costs up front. Perhaps adding this expense into the next budget is too speculative an item to predict or better yet, it is too politically advantageous to pass up.

Nevertheless, the political ramification of supplemental requests puts Congress in a press. With exception of the relatively few members on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, members of Congress generally show their support for the troops regardless of executive leadership by approving requested supplemental packages. Sure, Congressional press conferences or statements that disagree with the war are easy to find, but few actively support cutting off the juice and do so at great risk. Sen. Kerry’s opposition and “flip-flop” on an $87 billion supplemental request (as mentioned in Gunner Palace) in 2003 created lingering political baggage during his presidential campaign. Earlier this year, all 100 Senators voted for an $82 billion request (Request). As Dr. Farley pointed out in lecture, Army operations in Iraq are almost entirely financed by supplemental spending today. Who would vote against this?

Finally, war is a costly business to be in-both fiscally and in terms of life. Supplemental funding allows for the flexibility to change funding needs as often as reasonably needed. Dragging direct war costs into the overall defense budget would just invite problems that could ultimately delay or alter what the troops need in the field immediately. The $5-6 billion a month for Iraq and Afghanistan may be expensive to critics, but as long as American troops are engaged in conflict the will of American voters and politicians will support the costs involved, no matter what the price.

President Bush campaigned in 2004 against what he described as a “Tax and Spend Liberal”. Judging by the reality of his administration’s overall fiscal behavior, Bush could easily be described as a “Just Ask and Spend Conservative”.

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