Bush Visits Pentagon, Weighs In on Defense Budget Shortfall
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2007 It’s of paramount importance to the nation for Congress to provide money to the Pentagon for funding operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush told reporters at the Pentagon today. (Video)
“The missions of this department are essential to saving Americans’ lives,” Bush told reporters after meeting with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other senior defense leaders to discuss the long-term needs of the military and of the need to continue modernization efforts.
The department’s missions “are too important to be disrupted or delayed or put at risk,” Bush emphasized. He then expressed his frustration that the military has “waited for months” for congressional funding to support overseas operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Congress has approved supplemental funding for war operations, but such legislation comes attached with timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Bush has vowed to veto any such legislation that crosses his desk.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of a shortfall of funds to support overseas military operations, Gates has directed that the Army and Marine Corps begin planning to reduce operations at all Army bases by mid-February and all Marine installations by mid-March.
“Pentagon officials have warned Congress that the continued delay in funding our troops will soon begin to have a damaging impact on the operations of this department,” Bush said.
The shortfall cannot be alleviated by shifting more money around Pentagon accounts, Bush explained, noting that Congress limits the amount of money that can be transferred.
“No more money can be moved” within DoD, Bush said.
Gates has asked the services, the Army and Marines in particular, to review their spending with an eye to cut installation operational costs. Soldiers and Marines constitute the bulk of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a memorandum dated Nov. 26, Gen. Richard A. Cody, vice chief of staff of the Army, directed all Army commanders and agency directors to begin planning to curtail operations and related expenses that do not directly support warfighters engaged in the global war on terrorism, according to an Army news release issued yesterday.
In addition, about 200,000 government civilians and contractors could be furloughed in coming months if the required funds aren’t provided, senior defense officials have said.
Cody’s instructions tell Army commanders and civilian leaders to review all operations and to forward recommendations to cut costs back to him by Dec. 4.
“These are contingency steps that a prudent manager must take,” Bush said.
Gates and other senior defense officials “have made a reasoned case to Congress for the funds they need to keep the military running,” the president said.
The American people “do not want the government to create needless uncertainty for those defending our country” or uncertainty for servicemembers’ families, Bush said.
People also expect the government not to disrupt the U.S. military’s efforts in Iraq, which have helped to bring about reduced violence in that country.
“They do not want disputes in Washington to undermine our troops in Iraq, just as they’re seeing clear signs of success,” Bush said.
He added that U.S. political leaders “have a responsibility to send the right message to the rest of the world.”
“Let us tell our enemies that America will do what it takes to defeat them,” Bush said. “Let us tell Afghans and Iraqis that we will stand with them as they take the fight to our common enemies.
“Let us tell our men and women in uniform that we will give them what they need to succeed in their missions, without strings and without delay,” Bush said.
Bush urged Congress to provide funding needed by the troops before members depart for the holiday recess. He also praised military members for their hard work, courage, sacrifice and dedication to peace.