The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to force President George W. Bush to submit a budget for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars instead of financing them in emergency bills that are pushed through Congress with minimal scrutiny.
As Congress prepared to pass an emergency bill with $65.8 billion the Pentagon urgently wanted for the wars, the Senate voted 98-0 to end the practice and make the administration lay out the wars’ expected costs in its annual budget submitted to Congress in February.
The vote came on an amendment to legislation spelling out defense policies for next year that is expected to trigger a broader debate on Iraq. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said he would push an amendment calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of this year, while other Democrats are considering measures calling for a phased withdrawal.
Including the latest emergency bill, the wars’ cost will reach $420 billion, said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who sponsored the amendment.
“We’re adding hundreds of billions to conveniently named emergency expenditures” that do not have to be accounted for in the budget, he said.
The amendment would only apply to war spending and would allow additional emergency Pentagon spending with justification.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the defense authorization bill in May without a similar measure to end the war supplementals.
Democrats and a number of Republicans have complained that the administration has sought to conceal the mounting red ink caused by the wars and diminish Congress’ role in budget decisions by rolling the war spending into periodic supplemental bills.
Because the emergency bills are not offset by spending cuts, they add to the burgeoning federal debt.
The administration has resisted putting war spending through the regular budget process, arguing that the uncertainty of war means it cannot foresee many costs.
“The White House has shown no sign that it will take the fiscally responsible course of beginning … to budget for the cost of the wars,” said Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee that oversees federal spending.
McCain has frequently complained that the war supplemental — nine since the September 11, 2001, attacks — have become vehicles for billions of dollars in spending on lawmakers’ pet projects. Routine military spending also increasingly has crept into the emergency bills, he said.
Bush threatened to veto the Senate’s version of the latest emergency bill that had swelled by $14 billion beyond the $94 billion Bush wanted for the wars and for rebuilding in the hurricane-ravaged U.S. Gulf Coast. But lawmakers trimmed the costs in a House of Representatives-Senate negotiation.
© Reuters 2006