Over the past several months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others have urged Congress to pass a $33 billion supplemental spending request to continue funding the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In recent weeks, the tone of the rhetoric has intensified, with Gates warning that the military may have to start doing “stupid things” if the supplemental is not passed by the upcoming July 4th recess. Even General David Petraeus has weighed in on the issue in recent days, urging the House to pass the bill during his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
Reversing the usual pattern, the Senate passed its version of the bill on May 27, but the bill has stalled in the House, largely due to two concurrent factors:
1) Large-scale defections of Democratic representatives who do not wish to go on record as having voted for more war funding, and;
2) Republican resistance to billions in spending that has been tacked on to the bill for programs unrelated to the war. These include aid to Haiti, other disaster relief funds, disability payments to veterans, and much more.
Congress won’t make its July 4 deadline for a conference agreement, but the House hopes to pass its version of the bill later today. In the final scramble, the bill is changing by the hour, but as of June 30 it had ballooned to nearly $75 billion.
(Highlights of the bill after the jump)
While we all wait patiently, let’s take a look at some highlights of the Senate’s recommendation:
• $33.43B in emergency war appropriations
• $13.37B in compensation for Vietnam veterans who suffer from a variety of health issues due to exposure to Agent Orange
• $5.48B in domestic disaster response funding
• $2.13B for various Haiti relief efforts
• $1.72B in economic support to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan, Vietnam, and El Salvador
• $1.26B for Diplomatic and Consular Programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Mexico
• $1.181B emergency funding for the War on Drugs (at least this is a war of some type)
• $30.58M in emergency farm loan subsidies, plus an additional $950M authorized (which technically doesn’t count towards the grand total of the bill)
• $165M global refugee assistance
• $45M to fight H5N1 (bird flu) and H1N1 (swine flu) worldwide
• $22M for increased Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission salaries
• $12.96M for emergency acquisition of a new radio system for the US Capitol Police
• $1.8M to study the ongoing financial crisis
• $174K for the late Rep. John Murtha’s widow, Joyce
• -$111.5M in emergency rescissions from the federal Digital-to-Analog Converter Box program (Americans unable to watch TV? Now that would have been an emergency. Thankfully it seems we overestimated the number of 30 year-old television sets out there.)
The total cost of the bill is $58,962,089,000.
In this Senate version, at least, a slim majority of the funding (56.7%) goes towards the war. 22.7% goes to Vietnam veterans. The remaining 20.6% mostly goes to Haiti and domestic disaster relief, which are at least stated to be part of the bill’s purpose.
With vast sums being spent on unrelated programs such as farm subsidies, police radios, and the never-ending War on Drugs, the definition of the word ‘emergency’ has become blurred. This is not to say that many of these programs are a bad use of taxpayer dollars, but the salient question is: Why must they be included in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill? Then again, the student of American government (also known as “the cynic”) knows that this happens every year.
The point is, whether add-on funding comes in the form of highly controversial or legitimately useful programs, this is a war funding bill, and pork is still pork no matter how it tastes.
The House version will no doubt contain much more unrelated spending, with the war quickly becoming a minority provision.