Monday, May 18, 2009

The Cost of War

by Al Falafel

"Sometimes great presidents make mistakes" - Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass

By a vote of 368-60, the US House of Representatives passed a $96.7 billion bill for military spending and foreign aid efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly the entire Republican delegation supported the measure.

The bill is modeled on President Obama's request for $85 billion in continued support for the Iraq occupation and the war against Taliban forces and Al Queda in Afghanistan. The final House proposal, which now must be reconciled with a Senate version, contains almost $12 billion more than Obama asked for in his budget proposal.

The Senate is expected to approve spending up to $91.3 billion in a bill just voted out of Committee which more in line with Obama's request. It includes $50 million for the Pentagon to begin closing down the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The House calls for no such spending on Gitmo but does come with a resolution that detainees from the prison should not be released on U.S. soil. It does, however, allow for some of the 241 Guantanamo detainees to be moved to the United States to stand trial or serve their sentences.

As both bills were being developed, President Obama made a last minute request that an additional $108 billion be added to his request, earmarked for the International Monetary Fund. This would constitute a US contribution to the expanded $500 billion IMF loan fund designed to assist poor countries struggling through the global economic downturn. As an outcome of last month's summit meeting of the "Group of 20" nations in London, the IMF will issue interest-bearing assets, bringing the immediate taxpayer cost of this loan to about $5 billion for this contribution.

This request was immediately incorporated into the Senate version by Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

House Republicans oppose adding the IMF funds to the war-funding measure. But they would include $2.2 billion in other foreign aid to the amount Obama requested. However, the bulk of the $12 billion they would add to Obama's budget would go mostly for new weapons and military equipment such as cargo planes, mine-resistant vehicles, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker armored vehicles.

Even as the US war budget inflates, a growing number of Democrats are expressing skepticism about the increase in spending for military operations in Afghanistan.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., Chair of the House Appropriations Committee that produced the legislation, called it "a bill that I have very little confidence in." Still, he said, "I think we have a responsibility to give a new president — who did not get us into this mess — the best possible opportunity to get out of it."

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is one of 51 Democrats opposed the expansion of war funds. He remains unimpressed with Obama's plans for Afghanistan. "Sometimes great presidents make mistakes, and sometimes great presidents make even great mistakes. I hope that doesn't happen here," McGovern said.

"As the mission has grown bigger, the policy has grown even more vague."

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of its version of the spending bill. Most of that money, about $73 billion, would go to the Defense Department to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, part of which will pay for the extra 21,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan.

Despite the panel's unanimous endorsement, several Republicans said they will try to amend the bill to strip out the $50 million to be spent on closing Gitmo.

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