An $81 billion "emergency"

As Marines complain of shortages in the field, the Senate lards war funding with millions in pork.

Published April 25, 2005 4:10PM (EDT)

The Marines in Company E have a pretty good idea of what an emergency is.

As the New York Times reports today in a must-read for anyone concerned about the way in which the Bush administration is caring for the troops it has sent to Iraq, more than a third of the 185 members of Company E were wounded or killed during a six-month stint in Ramadi last year. The survivors tell the Times that they suffered not just from a lack of armor but also from a "shortage of men and planning that further hampered their efforts in battle, destroyed morale and ruined the careers of some of their fiercest warriors." One sergeant describes Humvees outfitted with homemade body armor so jury-rigged that the doors on the vehicles couldn't close; Marines "chicken-winged it" by holding the doors shut with their arms as they drove. Another Marine says: "We were sitting out in the open, an easy target for everybody. We complained about it every day, to anybody we could. They told us they were listening, but we didn't see it."

Getting the troops the armor and other supplies they need strike us as real emergencies, emergencies to which the administration has been far too slow to respond. But that's not to say that Washington turns a deaf ear to all "emergencies." We wonder what the Marines of Company E would have to say about some of the "emergencies" that will get funding under the $81 billion appropriation the Senate approved last week. There's lot of money in there for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's also $10 million to repair a flooded library at the University of Hawaii, $2 million to fund something called the Southeast Regional Cooling, Heating and Power and Bio-Fuel Application Center and $25 million for a fish hatchery in Montana. Maybe they're all good causes, but are they "emergencies" that need to be funded in a can't-vote-against-it war funding bill? And what would the Marines have to say about the "emergency" need for $500,000 for the Oral History of the Negotiated Settlement project at the University of Nevada, Reno. How much scrap metal could they buy for their Humvees with the $4 million the Senate approved for capital debt service for the Fire Sciences Academy in Elko?

Representatives from the House and Senate will meet this week to work out final details of the bill. The president has urged the two houses to work together on a final agreement "that focuses taxpayer dollars on providing the tools our troops and diplomats need now." We're guessing that the Marines of Company E would agree.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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