US FY08 Budget Funds Iraq Occupation into 2009 (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — The US House’s Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2008 also projects $50 billion of spending in 2009 on Overseas Deployments and Other Activities, primarily for use in Iraq, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) appears to be the only Democrat to have opposed the Budget because of opposition to funding the Occupation; the other Democrats who opposed were Conservative Democrats.

Even progressive Democrats–other than Kucinich–who opposed the Supplemental just a week ago voted yes on the Budget, including US Reps. Lee, Lewis (D-GA), Waters, and Woolsey. Messages left with the Offices of Lee, Waters, and Woolsey were not returned today.

“The President’s FY08 budget requests funding for the Iraq war well into 2009 and the Democrat budget accepts that timeline. On the most important issue of our time, we are falling right into line with the President’s plan for the war and his requests to fund it,” Kucinich said in a press release obtained last week by Atlanta Progressive News.

The press release was also sent to the corporate media, Kucinich’s spokesperson confirmed; however, they all appear to have ignored it.

“The supplemental that just passed the House last week calls for a withdrawal of troops by August 2008. Why does the budget fund the war for perhaps an entire year past the withdrawal date in the supplemental?… If we were serious about trying to stop the war, the budget would not contradict the supplemental,” Kucinich said.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) Office suggested to Atlanta Progressive News on Thursday the $50 billion could have been for training the Iraqi military or watching US Embassies in Iraq.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill told APN yesterday that he had checked into it and the funding was indeed for those specific purposes. When asked today why those purposes were not specifically listed in the Budget, Hammill said that those are only possible uses of the 2009 Overseas dollars and referred APN to the US House Budget Committee.

“I’m not going to get into specific purposes because it’s just a Budget, not an Appropriation,” Hammill told APN.

“August 2008 is a starting point and not an ending point,” he said, referring to the withdrawal date included in the US House Supplemental. (UPDATE: We have learned we received misleading information from Pelosi’s Office on this. In fact, the House Supplemental prescribes August 2008 as an end date after all.)

Pelosi’s Office confirmed it’s a possibility that the US Occupation of Iraq could still be going on in 2009 with the withdrawal only beginning in August 2008. (UPDATE: In fact, we learned that the House supplemental actually calls for the troops to be out by August 2008.)

So when will the troops be finished leaving? “I don’t think you’re going to get an answer to that,” Hammill said.

The Budget Committee confirmed APN’s analysis of the bill.

The Budget “does not specify what the funds are to be used for. It leaves that decision to the House Appropriations Committee which will be deciding that later in the year,” Chuck Fant, spokesperson for the House Majority side of the Budget Committee, told APN.

“I think anytime a country is at war, the political leadership wants to make sure that it supports the troops in the field and one of the points we make as Democrats is our troops will always have our full support as long as they’re on active duty and we’re not going to cut funding for the them,” Fant explained.

“I don’t care if they call it giving candy to children, [Kucinich] isn’t going to support it,” an aide to Kucinich told APN.

Kucinich’s Office also pointed out the Budget is still important. While it’s true the Budget is not the final say on how funds are to be spent, often the Appropriations Committee follows what was written in the Budget. “That’s usually what they do. Congress doesn’t usually take recommendations and throw them out the window,” an aide said.

Hammill disagreed, saying Republicans frequently did not end up supporting their own Budgets in the last few years.

SUPPLEMENTAL VERSUS BUDGET

This is the first time in years that Iraq and/or Afghanistan spending are appearing in the Fiscal Year Budget.

Previously, President Bush had requested, and Congress had funded, several emergency Supplemental appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan. “From a fiscal responsibility view it’s a troubling system,” Hammill said.

“The argument was this was emergency spending. They either really didn’t know what they needed or they were trying to hide the ball,” Fant said.

Pelosi’s Office and the Budget Office said there is now a concerted effort by Democrats to keep Iraq and Afghanistan funding within the FY Budget each year.

But some advocates, like Atlanta’s Bobbie Paul, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions, believe it may have been better to have the Supplementals separate.

Including Overseas military spending in the FY Budget often convolutes any public understanding of what the money is to be used for, Paul says. And indeed, in this case that appears to be exactly what’s happened.

The Budget does not specifically state how the money is to be spent. It could be for keeping US troops to continue policing a Civil War; could be for equipment repairs and relocation; could be for Iraq; could be for Afghanistan; could be for training Iraqi troops; could be for protecting US Embassies.

APPLES TO APPLES

President Bush made his Budget request, and it included $145 billion for Overseas military operations in FY 2008 and $50 billion in 2009. It requested $0 for 2010, 2011, and 2012. The FY Budgets currently project five years forward.

Congress typically uses the President’s Budget as the basis from which to make changes, so that analysts can make “apples to apples” comparisons, the Budget Office explained to APN.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean the Democrats in Congress had to accept the President’s proposal. They could have said, no, not $50 billion for 2009; $0 for 2009.

Now, something is counterintuitive here. If the money is really for Afghanistan, training Iraqi troops, and protecting US embassies–and not continuing the US Occupation of Iraq–then why would it stop abruptly in 2009, instead of continuing into 2012? Each of these activities could conceivably continue for several years.

The reason is, the President requested no Overseas funding for 2010 through 2012, so Congress could only add funding for those years–even if for purposes other than the Occupation–by increasing the total bottom line of the budget. If Democrats did that, then Republicans would accuse them even more of overspending than they already are, a Budget Office aide explained to APN, on condition of anonymity.

“We’d have hoped the President would provide a more realistic five-year window, but he didn’t. There was a lot of criticism by Democrats,” the Budget aide said.

KUCINICH OPPOSES OCCUPATION FUNDING

Kucinich opposes the Supplemental because “he always opposes funding for the war,” an aide said.

“Anyone who thinks this Congress is trying to end the war had better think again because this budget signals we will be in Iraq for another two years or more, even though Congress has led the American people and the media to believe otherwise,” Kucinich said in remarks on the US House Floor.

“Congress recently engaged in dubious debate about a non-binding surge resolution. Even though Congress had, and still has the authority to end the war now, we instead gave it new life with last week’s vote. Now $195 billion, on top of last week’s supplemental, means that close to $300 billion in a week has been approved to continue the war. When will Congress stand for truth and peace, and stop funding this war?” Kucinich said.

But one aide questioned Kucinich’s vote.

“Mr. Kucinich is running for President, so he has different objectives than us,” an aide within the Democratic Congressional leadership said.

WHAT’S NEXT

The US House and Senate will need to come to a compromise on the Budget, as well as on the Supplemental. This could take weeks or months. Then, each area of spending in the Budget will have to go through an Appropriations process.

President Bush has said he will veto this bill, but he cannot veto forever without dramatically affecting his relationship with Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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