I was listening to Daniel Schorr on NPR last night when he described the ongoing saga of the supplemental spending bill to fund the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of a play. Act I, he said, ended with the House’s failure to override President Bush’s veto. The curtain would be rising on Act II, negotiations to a compromise spending bill, starting with the arrival of congressional leaders at the White House yesterday afternoon for the first round of discussions with the President and his representatives. We’ll have to wait to see how Act II ends, and whether or not there is an Act III.
To continue Mr. Schorr’s analogy, I can’t help but feel that we’ve been seated to watch the wrong play.
In October, Congress attached a section to the defense spending bill that requires the President to include the costs of the two ongoing occupations in future yearly defense spending bills. President Bush took exception to this requirement and indicated in a signing statement (for the applicable text, see paragraph two of the signing statement) that he could and would ignore the law if he felt like it. And on January 10, 2007, President Bush announced the escalation euphemistically known as the “surge” and asked for a lot more money in yet another “emergency supplemental spending bill,” the very bill just vetoed because of the included timetable for the withdrawal of our soldiers.
As I said last year, we’ve been in Afghanistan since October 2001 and in Iraq since March 2003, so we have a good idea of how much the ongoing occupations will cost: $510 billion to date and counting for both Afghanistan and Iraq. Supposedly the escalation will cost an additional $5.6 billion, except that the Comptroller General of the United States has said that “it is unclear what much of the $5.6 billion is to be spent on.” Since it’s in an “emergency supplemental spending bill,” there is no real oversight by the Congress, and Congress has no real control over what the extra money is spent on.
In addition, the Congressional Research Service reports that nearly half of the $94 billion “emergency supplemental spending bill” will be used for non-combat operations in the so-called war on terror. Things like broadcasting U.S. propaganda in Arabic, sending additional navy ships and marines to the Persian Gulf, and spare parts for military vehicles that could easily have been included in the main defense spending bill instead of this “emergency supplemental spending bill.”
I had hoped that the transition to a Democratic Congress would lead to greater oversight regarding these “emergency supplemental spending bills,” and it looks like we do have more oversight. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, and I must say that I am disappointed. Congress could have stripped out all the extra spending for “longer war on terror” projects or demanded that they be justified individually. But Congress didnâ€™t, and instead choose to ignore this part of its responsibilities.
So now it’s time to re-engage citizen oversight of the Congress on these bogus “emergency supplemental spending bills.”