Congress wary of ’emergency’ spending

John Dimsdale Jun 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s tough to mess with Congress when money’s on the line. Presidents can’t spend it if Congress doesn’t OK it. And despite today’s high profile trip to Baghdad, President Bush’s spending habits in Iraq are getting a close once-over on Capitol Hill. Four and a half years and $400 billion later. Here’s our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale.

JOHN DIMSDALE: After weeks of delay, Congress will send President Bush a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill, most of which goes for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this could be the last so-called war supplemental for a while. Steven Kosiak at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says Congress appears ready to put its foot down on the use of emergency budget requests for the war.

STEVEN KOSIAK: Historically, we use supplementals when there is an emergency, unanticipated emergency like a natural disaster or war that happens in the middle of a year. These military operations were originally unanticipated. But they are no longer unanticipated. So many members of Congress think we should budget for them the way we budget for most other programs in the federal government.

Kosiak and other military budget experts like George Washington University’s Gordon Adams say emergency spending bills don’t get the same green-eyeshade oversight from either the Pentagon or Congress.

GORDON ADAMS: Supplemental budgets are put together right at the top of the Pentagon without the normal service scrutiny, and once they go to Congress they are shoved through the congressional process without hearings, without any knowledge of details, and in some cases no details at all.

Arizona’s Republican Senator John McCain is sponsoring an amendment to the 2007 defense budget that will put an end to supplemental requests for Iraq war spending. Even if his amendment fails, McCain is slated to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee next year. He’ll be able to use the chairman’s gavel to scrap the practice anyway.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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