As lawmakers wrangle over funding, Army prepares for worst

The service's operations and maintenance money will run out toward the end of February 2008 if lawmakers and Bush can't reach an agreement.

Today marks the deadline for Army commanders to complete plans for reducing operational costs at bases nationwide so they can continue to run if lawmakers and the White House cannot agree on additional funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody requested the planning exercise last week, the president and Democratic lawmakers have continued to fire political shots down Pennsylvania Avenue, accusing one another of playing politics with money for troops. The Army has said that without additional funding, all its money for operations and maintenance — the portion of the budget that covers day-to-day operating expenses — will have been assigned by the last week of February 2008. The Defense Department has also said that without the extra money, it may be forced to lay off 100,000 civilian personnel so it can support warfighters abroad. Money earmarked for military operations in the war on terrorism were not included in DOD’s $450 billion general 2008 budget that Congress and President Bush approved, which led to the current political battle royal. Cody has asked commanders to calculate the minimum amount they would need to support basic base activities, assuming that all operations and maintenance funds will be committed as of Feb. 22, 2008. The memo asks commanders to assume that as of Feb. 23, civilian employees who are not mission-essential will be furloughed and nonessential contracts will be suspended. It also states that DOD is considering applying the rarely used Feed and Forage Act, which would allow the military to spend more than it has appropriated on essentials such as clothing, subsistence, fuel, quarters, transportation and medical supplies. When an appropriation is passed, the military would reallocate the money. The White House has asked for almost $200 billion in additional money, and the House has passed a measure that would provide an additional $50 billion for the wars but includes language that would lay out a timetable for a troop drawdown. The Bush administration has dismissed any timetable, and Senate Republicans have stalled the legislation in a procedural vote. Bush and lawmakers also continue wrangle over 11 other spending bills. So far, they have been able to agree only on DOD funding, and the government has been forced to continue working at 2007 spending levels since the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. When lawmakers returned from Thanksgiving recess Dec. 3, they clashed with Bush again over the Iraq funding situation. Bush said Democratic lawmakers had accomplished little and reiterated that without additional funding, 100,000 civilian employees would soon start to receive furlough notices. Democrats responded by accusing the president of playing politics rather than working with lawmakers and refusing to fund “his own war.” “President Bush fails to grasp that the way to get things done for the American people is by sitting down to negotiate our differences, not by posturing from the Rose Garden,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “It’s this president who has stretched our military nearly to its breaking point,” he later added. Addressing reporters this morning, Bush again blasted Democratic lawmakers for not yet having agreed to the additional funding and demanded that they provide the extra money before the holiday recess. Winslow Wheeler, director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, said both sides are guilty of playing politics. Wheeler, who worked for Republicans and Democrats for more than 30 years, also said Democrats are especially leery of how layoffs could affect them politically. “None of them want [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] to pick civilian employees in their [district’s] bases to lay off,” he said. Observers have also discussing how much of the fiscal 2008 defense budget could be reprogrammed to make up for the Army's operations and management shortfalls. DOD has said it can shift around about $3.7 billion. The White House is asking for almost $55 billion in extra funding for Army operations and maintenance. The approved budget only allocated about $27 billion.
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