April 10, 2008 5:28PM

Sneaky Supplemental Spending

Many people are spilling a lot of ink debating whether America is taking the right approach in the war against terrorism, but very few are analyzing how that war is being financed. That is why an article by Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center is a welcome contribution to the debate. She explains that politicians in Washington are deliberately abusing the supplemental spending process (which ostensibly is reserved for unforeseen emergencies):

… the total price tag for America’s present wars [is] at least $822 billion, approximately 80 percent of which will be spent on Iraq. That surpasses the cost of the Vietnam War ($670 billion in inflation‐​adjusted dollars). And the Iraq portion dwarfs the $50 billion to $60 billion cost predicted at the outset of the war by Mitch Daniels, then director of the Office of Management and Budget. …To distract people from the real price tag of a two‐​front war, the president and Congress have used an unprecedented and fiscally irresponsible budgetary trick: a series of “emergency” supplemental spending bills totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. This scheme has allowed them not only to hide the costs of the conflicts but also to avoid painful budget choices while funneling billions of dollars in unvetted goodies to favored interest groups. Once a small blip among federal outlays, emergency supplementals have exploded since 2002, when the Republican Congress let a key legislative restriction on their use expire. In May 2007, President Bush signed into law the biggest supplemental bill in history, $120 billion, to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan ($100 billion) and pay for hurricane recovery and agricultural disaster relief at home. This came just five months after Congress approved another $70 billion emergency request for the wars. By contrast, the average annual amount of emergency supplemental spending in the 1990s—a decade that saw interventions in Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo—was just $13.8 billion. … The costs of the war may be necessary and temporary, but they are by no means sudden or unforeseen. The war in Afghanistan started in October 2001, and the war in Iraq commenced in March 2003. Furthermore, the easy‐​to‐​predict salaries and benefits of Army National Guard personnel and reservists called to active duty amount to some of the largest expenditures in the supplemental bills.

One final note: Democrats such as Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman reduced domestic spending to help finance, at least in part, war spending. Bush unfortunately has chosen to increase domestic spending at the same time that the defense budget has grown.