Gates Urges Congress to Approve Defense Budget, Wartime Spending Request
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 9, 2007 Delays in getting an emergency supplemental war-funding bill approved are causing disruption within the Defense Department, particularly among programs at home, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
The Army has slowed spending in numerous areas to free up money to fully fund wartime costs since President Bush vetoed war-spending legislation because it set a date for the return of combat forces from Iraq, Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.
The bill included $93.4 billion to help fund U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the global war on terror, but stipulated that U.S. combat troops be out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2008. It also included costs unrelated to the war.
Bush vetoed the bill because he rejects establishing a deadline for troop withdrawals, insisting that such decisions must be based on conditions in the war zone.
Gates told Congress today that delays in getting a spending bill approved are having “a growing impact here at home.”
“The Army is already trying to cope with this,” he said. Spending in various programs has slowed or stopped altogether, he said. Defense contracts are being withheld; hiring of civilian employees has slowed; and bases have begun resorting to month-to-month service contracts for services and supplies.
Gates noted several stopgap measures taken to close the funding gap: The Senate committee approved a $1.6 billion reprogramming from the Air Force and Navy to the Army yesterday, he said, and the Defense Department expects to make another reprogramming request within the next several days.
“That kind of a reprogramming will extend us about a week,” Gates said.
Ultimately, this type of effort will stretch the Defense Department’s capabilities only so far, he said.
“If we pulled out all the stops (and) used everything possible available to us, we could probably fund the war into July,” Gates said. “But I would tell you, the impact on the Department of Defense in terms of disruption and cancelled contracts and programs would be huge if we had to do that.”
Gates told committee members the costs of defending the country are high, but not as high as the cost of not doing so. “The only thing costlier, ultimately, would be to fail to commit the resources necessary to defend our homeland interests around the world and to fail to prepare for the inevitable threats of the future,” he said.
He urged committee members to move quickly to approve the fiscal 2008 defense budget request, which includes the base budget requests as well as wartime operating costs.
Gates said the budget requests would accomplish several important objectives. Approving them would allow:
-- Modernizing and recapitalizing key capabilities, to include funding increases for the next generation of ships, strike aircraft and ground combat systems;
-- Sustaining the all-volunteer military by reducing stress on the force and improving the quality of life for troops and their families;
-- Improving readiness through additional training and maintenance, and by resetting forces following their overseas deployment;
-- Building capabilities of partner nations to combat extremists within their own borders by using new train-and-equip authorities to ultimately reduce the potential demand for U.S. troops; and
-- Funding U.S. military operations for fiscal 2008 in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the ongoing campaign against violence jihadist networks around the world.
Gates acknowledged the combined price tag of these efforts -- more than $700 billion -- gives new meaning to “sticker shock.” But funding these operations is critical, he said, in light of current threats and those the country will face in the future.