Bush Demands Congress Pass DOD Funds; Democrats Issue Sharp Response
Congress is dawdling in providing funds needed to finance the Department of Defense (DOD) for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and military officials have run out of moves to stave off a fiscal crunch by shuffling money among accounts, President Bush told journalists in the Pentagon media briefing room.
"No more money can be moved" among accounts, after earlier funding shifts, Bush said.
Democrats said they have attempted to provide defense funding, but the president opposes provisions contained in those bills.
Therefore, he said, it will be necessary to take steps, which were announced earlier, to lay off Army and Marine Corps civilian defense employees, terminate contracts, and cut operations on U.S. military bases, unless Congress acts promptly to pass DOD funding legislation before lawmakers leave on their holiday break, Bush said.
While Democrats in Congress say Bush and defense leaders are engaging in scare tactics to pressure Congress into passing funding that he wants, Bush said that this is the only way to ensure that funding continues for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other Pentagon leaders, in planning for layoffs and other actions, are merely taking sober precautions, "contingency steps" based on the "need to plan prudently should those funds not be forthcoming," Bush said.
DOD should be funded as it fulfills its responsibility, "protecting the American people," he said.
"Missions of this department are essential to saving Americans’ lives," Bush said, "and they are too important to be disrupted, or delayed, or put at risk."
Bush stressed that he did his part months ago by submitting his supplemental war funding plan, money needed to prosecute the war on terror.
Now, two months past the start of fiscal year 2008, Congress still hasn’t passed legislation to provide those funds, he said. "The military has waited on these funds for months," Bush added, funds needed to carry on combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and to train Iraqis to take over more of those operations.
If Congress doesn’t pass money legislation, it "will soon begin to have a damaging impact on operations of this department," Bush said.
The Republican president lashed out at lawmakers in the Democratic-led Congress for creating "needless uncertainty for those defending out country, and uncertainty for their families."
Failure to pass the money measure would "undermine our troops in Iraq just as they’re seeing clear signs of success," he asserted.
So Congress should "give them what they need to succeed in their missions, without strings and without delay."
That referred to a long dispute between some lawmakers and Bush, with lawmakers wanting to set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, such as by the end of 2008, with Bush opposing any timetable as aiding the enemy.
Bush’s comments to the media came after Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former chief of naval operations, earlier told defense journalists that defense spending is inadequate, and should increase by an amount equivalent to about 1 percentage point of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
Currently, Commerce Department figures show that U.S. GDP, the output of all goods and services in the American economy, the largest economy on the planet, amounts to about $11 trillion to $12 trillion a year, depending on what is included in the calculation.
In other words, an increase in defense spending equivalent to about one percentage point of GDP would mean an increase on the order of perhaps $120 billion from the current roughly $606.5 billion defense spending estimated for fiscal 2008, including war costs.
Bush’s attack on Congress was countered with top lawmakers assailing him for his stance on defense funding.
One retort came from Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader, who said Bush has adopted a position of my-way-or-the-highway.
"The President demands more money to continue his failed war policy, yet he and his enablers in Congress have rejected our proposal for an additional $50 billion provided they work with us to change course in Iraq," Reid complained. "He cannot have it both ways." Some Democrats wish to end the war and withdraw U.S. troops.
The senior senator asserted that Bush wants funding to continue a war based on a flawed strategy of attempting to intervene in what is essentially a war among religious factions.
"Bush Republicans have indefinitely committed our military to a civil war that has taken a tremendous toll on our troops and our ability to respond to other very real threats around the world," Reid said.
"They are so afraid of being held accountable for their failed war policy that they would rather leave our men and women on the battlefield shorthanded than work with us to adjust this disastrous strategy."
Reid pledged that Democrats in Congress won’t permit combat operations to halt for lack of funds.
"Democrats have and will continue to ensure our troops have the resources they need to do their jobs and will continue to fight for a war strategy worthy of their sacrifices."
A similar response came from the other side of Capitol Hill, from Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee, a Marine Corps veteran.
He lambasted the Bush plan to shut down some defense operations if Congress doesn’t pass legislation written as Bush wishes.
"By threatening to close military child care centers and counseling services, the president is using our military families as a wedge," Murtha said in a statement.
Murtha also criticized Bush’s assertion that congressional inaction will harm military readiness.