You'd think that, two years into a war, a secondary, "supplemental" budget for the Pentagon would be for handling last-minute military contingencies. Responding to battlefield emergencies. Coping with unforeseen turns of events.But you'd be wrong, unfortunately. Because major chunks of the Pentagon's $82 billion supplemental defense bill are only distantly related to the fights going on in Afghanistan and Iraq.The most obvious example: the $5 billion or so devoted to Army "modularity." That's the push to break American troops into 43 smaller, more easily deployable brigades, from the current 33. It's part of a long-standing effort by the Army to reorganize its forces. And it's something the brass has seen coming for years, now. There's no reason to lump modularity in with funds for Afghanistan and Iraq.No reason except for politics, that is. With the supplemental labeled by the White House and the press as an Iraq/Afghanistan bill, it becomes essentially impossible for any self-respecting politician to turn it down. Voting against money for troops in harm's way that's political hara-kiri.The supplemental also includes about $13 billion for Army payroll, to make sure G.I.s get paid. But nearly $2 billion of that money wouldn't have ended up in this bill -- if Pentagon chiefs hadn't already taken it out of soldiers' paychecks.A few months back, the Defense Department leadership realized they hadn't devoted more than a pittance to armoring up their fleet of trucks (a hardly unforeseen circumstance, given the hundreds of roadside bomb attacks on convoys). The Pentagon brass needed money for the job, fast. And so they decided to dip into the Army payroll -- knowing, of course, that there would be a supplemental bill coming down the pike in a few months. And knowing that just about every Senator and every Congressman would vote for the thing."I always tell people, thank God for the supplemental. We would not be able to do anything... without them," Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac told an Association of the United States Army conference last year. "If those dont happen, were in a world of hurt."But wouldn't it be better if they planned for these things up front, instead of sneaking them through the back door? Is this any way to fund a military at war?The Pentagon says it's making hard choices about which of its massive programs to keep, and which of them to cut.Well, how serious can they be if theyre not fully accounting for Iraq and Afghanistan? They basically have got two sets of books operating, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a House Armed Services Committee member, tells Defense News. If you treat [Iraq and Afghanistan] as off the official budget, then how are you ever going to make real adjustments to the portfolio and the investments?THERE'S MORE: "Why this funding is in an emergency supplemental [request] is hard to explain. It looks as though they want a bigger defense budget without admitting it," the Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson tells the Washington Post.
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans and Democrats have criticized the Pentagon's reliance on the supplemental request, saying it curtails congressional oversight and distorts understanding of defense spending. "It removes from our oversight responsibilities the scrutiny that these programs deserve," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told military service chiefs at a hearing Thursday.