Defense News: War Supplemental Not Needed to Fund Troops

Tuesday, 27 July 2010 09:03 By Robert Naiman, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

According to a plausible AP report last Thursday, heavy political pressure was expected on the House Democratic leadership this week to approve a war supplemental for Afghanistan that contains no money to avoid impending layoffs of schoolteachers and other public employees, nor any kind timetable for military drawdown from Afghanistan. No doubt, many Republicans who support the endless and pointless war and who oppose spending to avoid layoffs of teachers and other public employees and to boost the domestic economy might be sorely tempted to try to bully House Democrats into quickly approving the war money by accusing them of "not supporting the troops" if they refuse to approve the money this week, trying to imply that if the war supplemental is not approved this week, pay or supplies for the troops might be endangered.

But this claim has now been objectively refuted by Obama administration officials. If the war supplemental is not approved this week, the troops will still be paid and the troops will still be fully supplied. There is no "emergency" requiring action this week; there is plenty of time for the House Democratic leadership to insist on provisions in the war supplemental different from those preferred by the Senate, including money for teachers and some kind of timetable for military drawdown in Afghanistan.

Defense News reports:

[Army Undersecretary Joseph] Westphal said that if the Army doesn't get the supplemental money soon, Army operations and maintenance accounts will begin to run dry in mid-August. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq won't be affected, he said, but training, equipment maintenance and other activity on bases in the United States could be curtailed, he said.

[...]

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., asked, "Are we really looking at not paying" troops who are fighting the wars?" Westphal assured him that soldiers will get paid. "What we're concerned about is civilians."

Navy Undersecretary Robert] Work and [Air Force Undersecretary Erin] Conaton said that Navy and Air Force uniformed personnel might, indeed, encounter pay problems late in September.

That sounds scary, but it's not likely. Legislation passed 150 years ago ensures that troops won't go unpaid. The Feed and Forage Act of 1861 allows the government to pay for essential national security expenses, including pay for troops, even without an appropriation passed by Congress. [Emphasis added.]

Under current law, the government can continue to pay for "essential national security expenses, including pay for troops" without a Congressional appropriation. Furthermore, we are informed, some uniformed personnel "might" encounter pay problems "late in September." Even if Congress leaves town this week without passing the war supplemental, Congress is coming back in early September, in plenty of time to make sure that no uniformed personnel "encounter pay problems."

The same Defense News article says that the Navy "might" have to furlough some civilian employees in mid-August if the war supplemental is not passed. While I would not wish an involuntary furlough on any civilian employees of the Navy in mid-August, the mere possibility that this might take place does not constitute a national emergency that should cut off debate on the war supplemental. Certainly, any civilian employees of the Navy who might face a temporary furlough in mid-August are in a much better position to make adjustments than the nation's unemployed who had to wait for Congress to extend unemployment benefits, thanks to the obstruction of Senate Republicans.

Since there is no emergency, there is no reason for House Democrats to get rolled by Senate Republicans without a fight. Existential issues are at stake about the war and about our national priorities. Is the indefinite pursuit of the war in the interest of the majority of Americans? Is it more important than saving the jobs of schoolteachers and other public employees?

WikiLeaks has just released a trove of information about the war in Afghanistan. Congress and the American people need time to digest this information before Congress gives up its key leverage on the administration until the next funding request.

Reporting on the trove of documents, The New York Times leads with:

A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.

This is an important and damning claim. We need time to evaluate it. If it is true that the administration has misled us about how grim the situation is in Afghanistan, then the July 1 vote in the House on the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment requiring a timetable for military withdrawal - which three-fifths of House Democrats supported - took place in the context of a misleading official portrayal. Congress and the American people have the right and responsibility to digest this information before Congress passes the war supplemental.

According to the web site icasualties.org, which tracks the deaths of US soldiers in Afghanistan, by the end of this week, we will likely have passed a key milestone: the point at which the number of US soldiers who have died in Afghanistan under President Obama has exceeded the number of US soldiers who died in Afghanistan under President Bush. Congress should use this opportunity to re-evaluate what we are doing and try to force a change in course.

House Democrats have distinct interests from the Senate and the White House. Every one of them has to run for re-election in November. It's time for them to stand up. You can urge your representative to oppose a jobless and timetable-free war supplemental by using Friends Committee on National Legislation's toll free number: 1-888-493-5443.

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 July 2010 09:03