Obama’s $106 Billion War Supplemental | Citizens Against Government Waste

Obama’s $106 Billion War Supplemental

The WasteWatcher

On April 9, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a summary of the administration’s proposed fiscal year 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, stating that it “is the last planned war supplemental.”  In the bill, President Obama sought $83.4 billion to fund “ongoing military, diplomatic, and intelligence operations.”  The OMB release stated that “the President will not tolerate it being turning into a vehicle for political projects.  He has made it very clear to Congress that he will not accept any earmarks in the bill – and he will not tolerate the bill being loaded up with unrelated items.  The era of irresponsibility is ending.”

Two months later, on June 24, 2009, President Obama signed into law a $106 billion supplemental bill.  The total cost exceeded his original $83.4 billion submission by $22.6 billion, or 28.3 percent.

War supplemental bills have been routine since the Gulf War began in 2001 soon after September 11, and even though they are intended to address emergency situations after the fiscal year has begun, a closer look suggests otherwise.

According to a January 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, provisions in supplemental bills often have nothing to do with the emergency event that they are meant to address.  Over a 10-year period, $710 million in provisions were unrelated to the emergency event that prompted the bill and it was unclear whether an additional $12 billion was related to the emergency. 

Unfortunately for taxpayers, lawmakers attach items to emergency supplemental bills in order to circumvent the normal legislative process.  GAO explained that a regular budget and appropriations process “provides for greater legislative deliberation, procedural hurdles, and funding trade-offs,” which can be avoided by attaching a particular provision to an “emergency” supplemental bill.  Legislators find this an especially enticing opportunity to fund pet projects, knowing that the President rarely vetoes a supplemental bill.

The 2009 war supplemental was no exception.  While the purpose of the money, according to a June 17 Associated Press article, is to “maintain defense and intelligence activities in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of this fiscal year,” as well as provide security aid to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and to fight the flu pandemic, the bill had three particularly egregious unrelated provisions.

The most expensive project was $439 million for the Mississippi Barrier Island Restoration by Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Committee member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).  They wanted the money to repair damages caused by Hurricane Katrina, which landed onshore on August 28, 2005.  Sen. Cochran made a grab for $348 million for this same project in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008 and was denied.

Sen. Cochran joined Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, to add $49 million to repair damage from Katrina to the former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant.  The ammunition plant is supposed to be transferred to the NASA Stennis Center by 2011, and repairs are needed to restore the plant to a usable condition.  This does not qualify as an emergency under any circumstances.

A smaller but equally unnecessary earmark worth $4 million was added by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) to reconfigure space at the National Naval Medical Center campus in Maryland for the Vision Center of Excellence.  Under the regular military construction budget, the center was scheduled to open in 2011.

The use of emergency supplemental appropriations to attach provisions that are unrelated to an emergency should be of great concern to taxpayers, especially under current economic circumstances where every federal dollar should be spent wisely.  President Obama may have said that he would “not accept any earmarks” in the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, but like his predecessors, he was forced to sign a pork-laden bill.

Liya Palagashvili

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