Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, March 11, 2007

  White House Document Dump: An Iraq War shell-game

George Bush pulled another fast one on Friday, though so far the whole thing has gone unnoticed. It's a classic Bush & Co. document dump, with a twist.

Bush is traveling abroad, while his administration is rocked by one major scandal after another, and the escalation in Iraq just rescalated. What better time then to get some Awkward News out? This Awkward News happens to concern the military budget.

The twist here is that in the letter Bush sent to Nancy Pelosi asking Congress to give the DOD more money, he gave a seriously misleading account of what he planned to do with it all. In the letter, Bush claims that the money is needed for base closures. The truth of the matter emerges only once you examine a document sent along with that letter.

And the truth is that Bush wants to cut billions of dollars from domestic programs partly in order to pay for troop deployments in Iraq.

Here is the first letter from Bush to Pelosi, regarding proposed cuts to domestic programs, from 3/9/07 (emphasis mine):

I ask the Congress to consider the enclosed FY 2007 request to cancel $3.1 billion of funding from lower-priority Federal programs and excess funds. This request would offset fully the funds needed to address the $3.1 billion FY 2007 funding shortfall for the Department of Defense to implement the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The proposed cancellations would affect the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Transportation, as well as the Corps of Engineers.

The details of this request are set forth in the enclosed letter from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.


I'll return to the grisly details of what Bush proposes to cut from domestic programs in order (as he claims here) to fully fund the base closures that were rammed through in 2005. You'll recall that this was another of Rumsfeld's hare-brained schemes. Rumsfeld claimed improbably that the military could save nearly $50 billion by closing military bases en masse. Instead, these closures are turning out to be of dubious value, as more credible people had predicted.

In questioning the Pentagon's estimate on savings, the commission has pointed to its own analysis as well as a report by the Government Accountability Office that found upfront costs will total $24 billion.

That report said eliminating jobs held by military personnel would make up about half of the Pentagon's projected annual recurring savings. It also said much of that money would not be available for other uses because the jobs — and salaries — simply would be relocated.

"It doesn't appear to us the savings are real," Phillip Coyle, a commissioner and former assistant secretary of defense, told officials.


The DOD has in fact been budgeting billions every year to pay for the initial base closings:

The Defense Department's proposed $379.9 billion fiscal 2004 budget suggests the Pentagon will close or realign as many as 25 percent of all bases during the next round of base closures in 2005.

The proposed budget lays out a six-year spending plan that calls for spending $2.97 billion on base closures in fiscal 2006, $5.26 billion in fiscal 2007, and $2.25 billion in fiscal 2008.


But now, Bush tells Pelosi, DOD needs another $3.1 billion dollars alone for 2007...just to supplement the base-closure budget.

~~~


As it turns out, though, that's not quite the whole truth. Wander on over to the Office of Management and Budget, and you'll find a copy of the enclosure that Bush directed OMB to send along with the letter to Pelosi (PDF).

Submitted for your consideration is an FY 2007 request to cancel $3.1 billion of funding from lower-priority Federal programs and excess funds. These proposals would offset fully funds needed to address the $3.1 billion FY 2007 funding shortfall for the Department of Defense (DOD) to implement the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. These funds are necessary for DOD to continue scheduled redeployments of military personnel and their families from overseas stations to the United States and support the training, mobilization and deployment of military forces in support of the Global War on Terror. In addition, these funds are required to maintain the legislated schedule for BRAC realignments and closures, which is important to communities that have already made specific plans and commitments.


The statement is clear as mud, don't you know, but my understanding of the phrase I've emphasized is that the administration is slipping an additional purpose into the package. Some of this will be used for BRAC (presumably), but the big pot of $3.1 billion is also going to be siphoned off to pay for the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Funny that the President didn't mention that in his letter to Pelosi.

~~~


So what domestic programs does the OMB suggest taking an ax to? The document goes on to list them. I'll highlight a few of the suggested cuts, to give you an idea of what this endless war in the Middle East is doing for America. Remember that the administration considers these things to be 'excess'.

Proposed cuts (in millions of dollars)

  • Dept. of Agriculture, $245.3, including cuts from the Rural Business Enterprise Grants and Hatch Act Formula Funds (given to State Agricultural Experiment Stations)


  • Dept. of Commerce, $79.1, from the Advanced Technology Program


  • Dept. of Education, $891.7, including cuts from Career and Technical Education State Grants, from Tech-Prep State Grants, and from the family literacy program Even Start


  • Dept. of Energy, $200 from the Environmental Management program


  • HHS, $118 from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention


  • HUD, $740 from Community Development Block Grants


  • Dept. of Interior, $77.3, including cuts from the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Education Construction program and from the Land and Water Conservation Fund State Grants program


  • Dept. of Transportation, $670, mostly in cuts from grants for passenger rail service


These cuts show you clearly where this administration's priorities are, and they are not where people live, and work, and strive to make better lives for themselves. With bird flu a looming threat, it's time to cut funds from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. With states' budgets sinking under the weight of unfunded educational mandates imposed by the 'education President', the way to pay for deployments to Iraq is to cut close to a billion dollars from educational grant programs. With oil and gasoline prices soaring, the rational way to plan for the nation's energy and transportation needs is to cut back on passenger rail service.

How does the Bush administration justify these cuts? Not very persuasively, I suppose I'd say. Here for example is its reasoning for cutting Hatch Act funds:

The proposal would cancel $130.0 million from the Hatch Act formula grant program, which provides funding to land grant universities...The Administration has consistently emphasized that funding through peer-reviewed competitive research programs generates the highest quality research, and therefore believes that providing significant amounts of additional funding to statutorily-derived formula programs is not the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.


You get the impression that nobody at the upper reaches of this administration attended a land-grant university. There's an awful lot of 'because-we-say-so' in these justifications.

The proposal would cancel $740.0 million from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. This program was proposed to be reduced in the President's FY 2007 and FY 2008 Budgets, and P.L. 110-5 provides funding significantly above these requests. The current CDBG program is not well-targeted and program results have not been adequately demonstrated or reported. The Administration continues to support CDBG legislative reforms, similar to the CDBG Reform Act, which was transmitted to the Congress in May 2006.


And get a load of what people who own rambling estates think of publicly-owned parks:

The proposal would cancel $28.0 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund State grants program in the National Park Service. The program provides grants to States for land acquisition and improvements to State and local parks. No funds for this program were requested in the FYs 2006, 2007, or 2008 President's Budgets on the grounds that paying to improve State and local parks are decisions better left to State and local taxpayers.


In its details and overall, this is an obnoxious proposal from OMB, but it drives home exactly what this foolish invasion of Iraq has meant to our common wealth. No wonder this stinker from Bush came as a Friday document dump. It will be interesting to see whether Congressional Democrats even treat it as meriting serious discussion.

~~~


As I suggested above, there was a second letter from Bush to Pelosi on Friday, this one requesting that an unspecified amount of money be reallocated within the pending DOD budget. As the OMB enclosure (PDF) with that letter reveals, Bush is asking to shift $3.2 billion around, the great majority to fund operations in Iraq and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. A relatively small amount, $50 million, will go toward improving the health care for veterans.

The $3.2 billion is to come from a variety of less important lines in the DOD budget—that is to say, things "not associated with Iraq and Afghanistan".

In addition, Bush asks for permission to raise the ceiling by $3.5 billion in what he is authorized to transfer within the DOD budget. The purpose, again, is to fund the Iraq war.

All of this goes to underline the point that emerges from the first letter to Pelosi: That the Iraq War is bankrupting the US and increasingly desperate budgetary measures have to be employed just to maintain the appearance that the Bush administration has things under control.

The long-term damage to our military's readiness, both in personnel and in materiel, will be profound. The drain upon our finances, regrettably, may be even more difficult to repair. And if this administration has any say in the matter, all of this will be cloaked from the public for as long as possible.

crossposted from Unbossed

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