Pentagon suggests robbing Navy, Air Force to pay Army
Move would give White House, Congress more time to reach funding compromise
By Rick Maze -
Posted : April 23, 2007

With a showdown coming between the White House and Congress over funding for the war in Iraq, the Pentagon has tried to raise the ante by threatening to raid the Air Force and Navy personnel budgets to help cover Army operating costs.

The transfer of $800 million each from the Air Force and Navy into the Army operating budget is aimed at giving the Bush administration and congressional leaders more time to work out a compromise over $105 billion in emergency funding to cover war-related expenses for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The main obstacle is language — insisted upon by Democratic leaders in Congress — that would set a timetable for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq.

If Congress approved the money shift, the Air Force and Navy could have to delay reassignment moves, withhold or reduce bonuses and incentive pays, and delay promotions so the Army could continuing carrying out military operations, congressional aides said. How dire the situation might get would depend on when and if the money is replaced.

In an April 11 letter to Congress, first reported by Congress Daily, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the transfer is needed by mid-May to avoid drastic consequences for the Army, to include slowing or stopping training rotations for deploying units, depot maintenance on equipment, and even slowing the formation of transformed brigades.

Already, the Army is canceling supply orders, freezing civilian hires and releasing temporary employees, postponing new contracts, and canceling nonessential travel, Gates said in the letter.

The $1.6 billion transfer, combined with other cost-cutting moves, would buy the military another two months for an agreement to be worked out on the supplemental funding bill.

A Navy spokesman, Lt. Bashon Mann, said Gates’ proposal would take money the Navy would be spending in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, which begins in July. The Navy would get the money back once a supplemental is approved, he said, noting the same process was used last year to pay for tsunami relief operations in Asia.
Another reprogramming idea

The request to take money from the Navy and Air Force to pay for ongoing operations is one of two reprogramming proposals before Congress. Already pending is a proposal to shift another $1.7 billion between various accounts.

Shifting money requires approval from the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees — the same panels deeply involved in the dispute over the delayed war-funding bill that makes the reprogramming necessary in the first place.

Bush and Democratic leaders in Congress are planning face-to-face discussions about the supplemental, but what might be accomplished is unclear. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush wanted to talk with Democrats about removing items from the appropriations bill that would result in a veto, such as calls for a withdrawal timetable and restrictions on deployments. Congress does not seem to have the votes to override a veto.

Gates’ proposal is no sure thing. Some lawmakers are skeptical that the services are really running out of money. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, said President Bush is wrong to complain that Congress has been slow to approve money.

“Congress has already provided $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, and the emergency supplemental ... adds nearly $100 billion more for our troops,” Byrd said.

Gates’ announcement of three-month tour extensions, made the same day as his warnings about the supplemental bill standoff, may make a quick compromise even less likely.

The measure could embolden those who want to use the bill to limit the length of deployments and guarantee more time at home. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a Marine combat veteran, former Navy secretary and Senate Armed Services Committee member, said the extensions “will place new strains on an already overburdened Army — a force that is being broken progressively as the result of a mismanaged strategy in Iraq.”

The service chiefs and the heads of the nation’s two largest veterans’ groups also have entered the debate.

The chiefs sent a rare “16-star letter,” so called because it is signed by four four-star officers, warning about the difficulty the military will face if Congress does not provide money for the war.

“Without approval of the supplemental funds in April, the armed services will be forced to take increasingly disruptive measures in order to sustain combat operations,” the April 2 letter says.

Commanders of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars also sent a joint letter to lawmakers April 12, urging them to remove the withdrawal and deployment restrictions and quickly approve the bill.

Staff writers William H. McMichael and Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.