So who's playing politics with war funding?

The president goes before the cameras.

Published April 3, 2007 12:58PM (EDT)

The president goes before the cameras this morning to talk about the funding packages for Iraq and Afghanistan that have made it through both houses of Congress. Only that's not how he'll be describing them.

He'll argue that by passing supplemental funding bills he won't accept -- which is to say, ones that include timelines for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- Congress hasn't really passed any supplemental funding measure at all. As the White House puts it in today's "Morning Update," "it has now been 57 days and counting since the president submitted his emergency war supplemental funding request to Congress. While Democrats are trying to score political points, our military is preparing to make budget cuts forced by Congress' inability to pass a responsible troop funding bill that does not force retreat, handcuff our commanders, or include billions of dollars in wasteful pork spending."

A couple of points here.

First, if the administration were budgeting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as if they were the ongoing things that they are, it would be including more than token amounts to fund them in its annual budget requests. Having chosen instead to get war funding through a seemingly unending string of "emergency" spending requests, the administration has all but invited down-to-the-wire scrambles on funding.

And maybe more to the point, this particularly funding package isn't really as down to the wire as the White House would like to suggest. The president has been painting dire pictures of deprivations for the troops if the supplemental spending bill isn't signed into law by April 15, and he's sure to do so again today. But as the Associated Press reported last week, the Pentagon has the "bookkeeping flexibility" to keep the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going as is until at least mid-July by simply shifting around money it already has. "The steps under consideration include borrowing from training, maintenance, personnel and procurement funds set to be spent later in the budget year, which runs through September," the AP explains. "They have become routine in recent years."

Routine? That's another way of saying "that's how the Pentagon did it last year." Bush didn't sign the 2006 version of the emergency supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq and Afghanistan until July 15, 2006 -- and that's when the Republicans controlled Congress. Did the White House respond with high-profile, live-TV projections of doomsday scenarios then? Not exactly. As the AP notes, the administration's protest then was pretty much limited to a single, "little-noticed letter from the White House budget office."

By Tim Grieve

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

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