Defense Authorization Bill Nears Passage-Battle for War Funding Continues
House and Senate lawmakers finally reached agreement on the conference report to the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill would authorize $696 billion in defense spending, including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $10.1 billion for ballistic missile defense. The measure contains several provisions, including one that would require a review of the roles and missions of the DoD every four years, and another for the establishment of a system to oversee funds being disbursed to rebuild Afghanistan. The bill is expected to pass both chambers.
The supplemental war funding appropriations bill, however, continues to languish in Congress. The $469.3 billion defense appropriation for fiscal year 2008, which passed Congress in November and was approved by President Bush, does not include funding for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure extended a stopgap continuing resolution, funding federal government programs only through December 14,2007.
Soon after President Bush signed the defense appropriations bill in mid-November, secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates explained the Army's financial crisis: "Now that the regular appropriations bill has been enacted, we are left with no bridge fund and only our base budget to support normal war operations."
The House of Representatives passed a measure that offered DoD $50 billion in supplemental war funds on the condition that the administration begin drawing down troops in Iraq within 30 days of enactment and aim to withdraw most troops by December 15, 2008. The bill also required that troops spend more time at home between deployments to Iraq. The House bill offering DoD $50 billion with strings attached was defeated in the Senate. A Senate Republican bill that contained no restrictions and provided $70 billion in supplemental funding to cover operations in the war against terrorism, mostly in Iraq, was voted down.
According to secretary Gates, a $50 billion bridge fund would pay for war operations only until about the end of February 2008. The Defense Department, he said, would have to lay off about 100,000 government employees and an equivalent number of contractor employees at Army bases. The furloughs would have a domino effect on procurements and depots.
The Pentagon, reacting to accusations that it was employing scare tactics to get the supplemental budget approved, explained that the Army has been forced to finance the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with money from budgets of each of the services, is on course to run out of maintenance and operations funds by mid-February and has begun planning to reduce operations at all Army bases by then. …