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Sen Byrd Speech -- Budgeting for Long-Term Occupation of Iraq / 07-17-03

Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

July 17, 2003

Budgeting for the Long-Term Occupation of Iraq

Senator Byrd delivered these remarks in support of an amendment that he offered to the Fiscal Year 2004 Department of Defense Appropriations bill. The amendment states that it is the Sense of Congress that overseas missions, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, ought to be funded in the regular budget and appropriations process.

216 years ago yesterday, in a sweltering room in Philadelphia, 55 men of extraordinary talents reached a most critical decision on the design of a new government for the United States. Days and weeks of acrimonious debate had failed to resolve disputes on the representation of each of the original 13 states. Men like Washington, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton struggled over the issue of how the people of our nation would be represented in their government.

But then, on July 16, 1787, the Framers of what came to be our Constitution reached a breakthrough. On that date, they struck a bargain that has come to be known as the Great Compromise. States with large populations would have the benefit of more numerous representation in the House of Representatives, and states with small populations would be protected by equal representation in the Senate.

Without this landmark agreement, work on a new Constitution to replace the failed Articles of Confederation might have foundered. Without the Great Compromise, we in this Chamber might never have met to debate the issues of the day.

But as we debate the bill before us, one cannot help but recognize the perilous situation in which the United States finds itself with respect to our foreign commitments. We take up the Fiscal Year 2004 Defense Appropriations bill at a time when nearly 150,000 of our troops are facing guerrilla attacks as they patrol Iraq. While the Administration had once predicted that our forces would be greeted as liberators, the Secretary of Defense is now warning that attacks on our troops may increase during the rest of July.

In light of all these facts, some may argue that we need to pass this bill soon in order to show support for our troops who remain under fire, nearly seventeen weeks after the war in Iraq began, and nearly eleven weeks after the President delivered his victory speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, where a banner over his head proclaimed, "Mission Accomplished."

If we rush to pass this bill to show support for our troops in Iraq, Mr. President, we will be rushing for naught, because not one thin dime of the $368.6 billion contained in this defense bill is for the additional costs of war in Iraq. There is not one red cent in this bill for the additional costs to support 150,000 troops in Iraq or the nearly 10,000 troops that remain in Afghanistan.

Linking speedy action on this bill to support for our troops who are now standing in harm's way is what is known as a bait-and-switch routine. This is a bill that only funds our military as if we were in a time of peace. But, we all know that we are going to be hit with a massive bill for wartime costs in a couple of months.

Let there be no doubt, the amount of money that we are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan is massive. Since September 11, 2001, Congress has appropriated $104.3 billion to the Defense Department for homeland security missions, the pursuit of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and the war in Iraq.

The total bill in Iraq so far, according to the Pentagon's Comptroller, has reached $48 billion. The Secretary of Defense reported last week to the Armed Services Committee that we are spending $3.921 billion each month for our occupation of Iraq, a figure nearly double that of its pre-war estimates. Secretary Rumsfeld also reported that we are spending nearly $943 million each month for military operations in Afghanistan.

I opposed the war in Iraq. Contrary to White House charges of "revisionist history," I never believed that Iraq posed a clear and imminent threat to the United States. But when the war in Iraq began, I stated that I would do everything in my power to provide our troops with the funds that are needed to ensure their safety, even though I disagree with the policy that brought them to Iraq.

General Tommy Franks said to the House Armed Services Committee on July 11 that our troops could be patrolling Iraq for the next four years. The new commander in Iraq, General John Abizaid acknowledged that our troops are facing guerrilla attacks. We know that our troops need money for food, fuel, ammunition, and pay. There is no reason why we must wait to provide for these needs until the Administration requests its next stop-gap spending measure. Congress should insist that these costs be included in the President's regular budget requests.

I am sure that it will come as a surprise to many Americans to know that the Administration has not presented Congress with any request nor any explanatory detail regarding the costs that are racking up during our occupation of Iraq. The President has not requested any funding for the additional costs of the 150,000 troops that are expected to remain in Iraq for an extended period of time. Nor has he requested any additional funds for the costs of rooting out Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. The American people would be stunned to learn that the Senate is taking up a $368 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Defense that does not include one dime for the additional costs of the war in Iraq or the mission in Afghanistan.

When we start talking about appropriations, budget resolutions, and supplemental spending bills, the eyes of many Americans start to glaze over. While John Q. Public may not know the intricacies of federal budgeting, he fully expects that somebody in Washington is watching over his taxpayer money and making sure of its effective use.

But, when it comes to financing military missions overseas, the White House continues to try to turn the Constitution on its head. The White House wants to spend the money first and have Congress approve the funding later. When it comes to this war in Iraq and the aftermath of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Administration views Congress like an automatic teller machine. Just put the request in the ATM and the money slides out in seconds, no questions asked.

Last October, Congress approved a resolution authorizing military action in Iraq. At the time, the White House and the Department of Defense asserted that the cost of the mission was "not knowable". The message from the White House was basically, trust me.

They said that they would send the bill to Congress when they knew more about the details of the mission.

Well, when the President submitted his FY 2004 budget to the Congress in February, he continued to keep Congress in the dark. He requested no funding for the war in Iraq. Why? The House and the Senate needed to pass budget resolutions that the President hoped would include $1.5 trillion of additional tax cuts. Perhaps the White House feared that a $60 billion bill for Iraq, just for FY 2003, might worry some Members who are concerned about deficit spending. On March 13, 2003, the Senate Budget Committee approved the budget resolution with $1.3 trillion of additional tax cuts and assumed no additional costs for the war in Iraq. On March 21, 2003, the House passed their budget resolution, including $1.3 trillion of tax cuts and assumed nothing about the cost of the war in Iraq. On March 26th, the Senate passed a budget resolution that assumed over $800 billion in tax cuts. What was curiously missing from the conference report was an amendment that had been offered by Senator Feingold and approved by the Senate to set aside $100 billion for the war in Iraq.

And, when did the White House finally send up their request for a supplemental for the costs of the war in Iraq? The White House waited until March 25, 2003, to submit a massive $62.6 billion request for the Department of Defense -- six months after the Congress considered the resolution to authorize military action in Iraq, two months after the President submitted his FY 2004 budget to Congress, and one week after the war in Iraq began.

Once the request was made to the Congress, the White House put its foot on the gas pedal and insisted that Congress move rapidly to pass the request in order to support the troops that were already deployed in the field. One hearing was held on March 27th. As I recall, the hearing was so compressed for time that Members were not even allowed to make opening remarks. On April 1st, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the President's total funding request for DoD. On April 3, the Senate approved the request. Thirteen days later, the Iraq supplemental for FY 2003 was public law.

So, the Administration strategy worked. The strategy goes like this. Force the Congress to make difficult choices with either inadequate information or bad information. Deploy the forces. Get the funding hook in the nose of Congress by putting the troops in the field. Go to war. Spend the money. And insist that Congress move promptly to approve the funding again, after it is spent and more is needed to replenish accounts.

Now, the Senate has before it the FY 2004 Defense Appropriations bill. Once again, the White House is hiding the ball when it comes to facing up to the true costs of the mission in Iraq. Apparently, there will be no request for the additional costs of this mission until next February - - after the fact. 150,000 troops in the field in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan, but no dollars to support them; no submission to Congress for how the money will be used; no oversight to ensure accountability; no plan for when the troops might come home; no plan for how to manage troop strength so that we do not have to keep our reserves deployed overseas for years at a time; no plan for attracting troops from other countries; no plan for seeking contributions from other countries to help cover the costs of the war and the peace in Iraq.

No, this White House wants to simply dictate the decisions and have the Congressional ATM machine spit out the money.

The Administration's only proposal so far is to slap down the national credit card, and stick Congress and the taxpayer with a huge bill for supplemental appropriations somewhere down the road.

This is not an acceptable way to pay for our overseas missions. This is a blatant attempt to mislead the American people about Administration policies that are leading to fiscal disaster. That is why I offer an amendment that states the sense of the Senate that the President should include in the budgets that he submits to Congress a specific request for funds to pay for our incremental costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We should put an end to this financial shell game of allowing the Administration to hide the cost of occupation by using supplemental appropriations bills. My amendment stops allowing this Administration to hide the costs of these foreign adventures from the public. My amendment calls on the President to be up-front with the American people about how much money we will really need to support our ongoing military operations overseas.

We need to start holding the Administration accountable for the funds that it spends for our military. We need to scrutinize the President's budget to make sure that we are getting the best value for our taxpayer money. If the Administration keeps secret how it is spending the money appropriated to it for Iraq and Afghanistan there is no check on its activities.

In the weeks before the war, the chief U.N. weapons inspector lambasted Saddam Hussein for playing a game of "catch as catch can." He excoriated the Iraqi regime for submitting misleading documents that did nothing to reveal what that secretive regime was up to.

Why in the world is the United States Congress settling for a game of "catch as catch can" when it comes to having this Administration be honest about how we are going to pay for the huge costs of occupying Iraq? Why would the Congress, which holds the power of the purse, settle for misleading budgets from the President that are intended to disguise the enormous budget deficit by excluding the costs of occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan?

We have to plan for these huge costs. There ought to be some tough questions asked about some of these expenditures. For example, we are paying $3.9 billion per month to support 150,000 troops in Iraq, and $950 million per month to support nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. Many Americans must wonder, why does it cost $26,000 a month to support one soldier in Iraq, but $95,000 a month to support one soldier in Afghanistan?

By using supplemental appropriations bills to fund the costs of extensive military deployments, the Administration has found a tactic to avoid elementary questions like that one. The folks at the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget only need to wait until the right moment, send a supplemental funding request to Congress, and use the old cattle prod that we must pass the bill immediately, no matter what its cost, or our troops will run short of supplies. It works like a charm. In the end, it is a budget tactic that is deceitful, allows for abuse and misuse of the public treasure, and cynically uses the very real emotional attachment all Americans have for our troops.

The American people are coming to grips with the dangers of post-war Iraq. They have read the headlines of daily attacks on our soldiers, and they understand that the stakes are very high. The American people want a plan for post-war Iraq, so that they can be assured that their loved ones will stay in harm's way only as long as absolutely necessary.

Congress must come to grips with the costs of post-war Iraq, as well as those associated with our continuing mission in Afghanistan.

Yet, a look at this defense budget leaves one wondering how those costs are being covered. There is no additional money for Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Administration has reported to Congress that we are spending $4.8 billion each month in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are costs which can be anticipated, budgeted for, and controlled. They are costs driven by policy emanating from this White House. There is absolutely no reason why they should not be included in the Defense Appropriations bill that is now before the Senate. If we truly want to support our troops, we should have truth in budgeting. My amendment calls on the President to be up-front about the costs of our deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It stops the practice of gimmicks and secrecy which hide the true costs of these foreign entanglements.

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