Editorial – Military’s Fuzzy Math

The Register-Guard

February 6, 2008 – The Pentagon’s budget request for the next fiscal year is about as squishy as a pair of combat boots full of Jell-O. Make that one boot, not a pair, because so much is missing from the numbers released last week that everyone will be waiting for the next boot to drop — in the form of a supplemental appropriation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s right, the Bush administration’s disingenuous fiscal shell game is back, despite a commitment last year to include detailed spending estimates for Iraq and Afghanistan in the Pentagon budget.

President Bush has returned to the deceptive practice of hiding the real cost of the Iraq war from the American public.

Here’s how he’s gaming the system in the 2009 defense budget, which is for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2008:

There’s nothing in the budget but a “placeholder” for war funding, penciled in at just $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is burning through more than $12 billion every month in its combat operations, so $70 million will be about enough to get the next president to April Fool’s Day before the bucks stop — right in the Oval Office.

Congress has tried to force Bush to be more accountable in his war spending, passing legislation requiring war appropriations to be included with the regular Pentagon budget. But Bush, master of the “I don’t care what Congress says” signing statement, has simply ignored the requirement, and there’s no enforcement mechanism built into the law.

The amount of money Bush has tried to keep off the books is staggering. The Congressional Budget Office reported last October that the United States had already spent $368 billion on its military operations in Iraq, $45 billion more in related services such as veterans care and training, and nearly $200 billion on top of that in Afghanistan. Most of that astounding total has been appropriated outside the normal budget process. The CBO now projects that the costs of the Iraq war through 2017 might exceed $1 trillion, and says the total cost of Iraq and Afghanistan combined could reach $2.4 trillion.

The $515.4 billion request for the 2009 defense budget arrives with seeming decimal-point precision, but it is far from a true picture of U.S. defense spending.

The Office of Management and Budget says the real Pentagon budget is $518.3 billion, because retirement and nonhardware spending must be included. But the Pentagon budget doesn’t account for nuclear weapons programs, which fall under the Department of Energy, or the $91 billion Department of Veterans Affairs, or the $40 billion Department of Homeland Security.

The Pentagon budget has never been an accurate measure of the nation’s investment in national security, but few presidents have manipulated its numbers as brazenly as Bush. Given his refusal to be honest with the American people about the terrible cost of the war in Iraq, it will be left to his successor to restore integrity to the budget process.

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