The Pentagon is preparing an emergency spending proposal that could be larger and broader than any since the Sept. 11 attacks, covering not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but extending to other military operations connected to the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
The spending plans may push the Defense Department into conflict with Democrats as they take control of Capitol Hill in January. Democrats had been planning to limit the emergency “supplemental” spending measures that have funded the wars in favor of the regular federal budget process, which affords greater oversight and congressional control.
Congressional and military officials have said the Pentagon is considering a request of $127 billion to $150 billion in new emergency war spending, the largest such request since the special spending measures were begun in 2001. So far, Congress has allocated $495 billion for Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism-related efforts.
Even within the Pentagon, the spending request is generating controversy. The Pentagon was due to forward its request to the White House by about Nov. 15. But a senior Defense Department official said that the decision has been delayed and that Pentagon officials have asked Army and Air Force officials to provide more justification for their spending demands.
The services have been pushing to increase the size of the supplemental appropriation in order to replace equipment, and they have argued that the overall military budget is too small given the demands on the armed forces.
Pentagon officials would not comment on the budget figures, which are due to be made public in February.
The upcoming request, added to the $70 billion already allocated for next year, would easily exceed the annual cost of the Vietnam War at its height. Adjusted for inflation, the U.S. spent $121 billion on the Vietnam War in 1968, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Still, the overall cost of the Vietnam War -- about $663 billion adjusted for inflation -- is still larger than the combined costs of the fighting thus far in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the research service.
The next request stands to be larger partly because of new rules laid out in an Oct. 25 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England. Rather than strictly limiting spending to Iraq and Afghanistan costs, the memo said the military services could include costs associated with operations that are part of the larger war on terrorism.
Previously, the military portion of the supplemental spending measures has been used almost exclusively for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. England’s memo would allow the military to include a greater number of expenses more loosely tied to the actual wars, such as new military weapons systems and training exercises.
Critics of the Pentagon budget process say the memo has encouraged the services to inflate their requests.
“The England memo basically said, ‘Let her rip,’ ” said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project and a former congressional budget aide. “Anything goes, as long as you can put it under the pretext of not only Iraq or Afghanistan but the global war on terror.”
The cost and approach of the spending request both are likely to meet with resistance in Congress. Democratic congressional aides said the new majority on Capitol Hill probably will push back against a request higher than $100 billion.
“This was a dream list for the military,” said one aide, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because the Pentagon has not formalized its request and because some members of Congress believe it is premature to comment publicly.
Democrats said a supplemental of $80 billion to $100 billion was more realistic. Both House and Senate aides say they want to push in the opposite direction of the Pentagon, moving money out of the supplemental and into the regular budget.
“We are going to show more oversight,” said another Democratic aide.
But Democrats acknowledged that it would be difficult to move most of the costs to the regular budget without forcing massive cuts elsewhere.
Though there will be more scrutiny of the Pentagon requests, and the more elaborate spending proposals could be nixed, there is little doubt a large supplemental will be approved, some Democratic aides said.
“People will grouse that they are loading up the supplemental, but they will be hard-pressed to say no because they realize the services need the equipment,” said the Democratic aide.
According to the England memo, the Pentagon wants to include money in the supplemental to replace equipment destroyed in combat or run down by accelerated wear and tear. More controversially, it also allows the services to replace old equipment with new models -- actions historically subject to the normal budget review process.
Defense Department officials declined to lay out specifics about what expenditures would be allowed in the next supplemental spending bill.
A Department official said a $30-billion request from the Navy and Marine Corps has been viewed as relatively uncontroversial. But the Army and Air Force requested far more than the Pentagon was willing to take to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and were asked to provide more information to top Defense Department officials.
The Army, outside military analysts have said, has requested about $80 billion in the upcoming supplemental, although Army officials have not confirmed the figure.
The Air Force has requested about $33 billion in supplemental funding, said Maj. Morshe Araujo, a spokeswoman. The Air Force initially requested $17.4 billion, but after the England memo was circulated the Air Force added $16 billion more in requests, Araujo said.
Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the nonpartisan Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said the timing of the memo suggested that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has resigned and is likely to be out by the end of the year, was passing on tough spending choices.
“It really does have the feeling of opening up the floodgates and letting someone else drown,” Thompson said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the supplemental amounts being publicly discussed were “wildly speculative.” The England memo, he said, was meant to enable the services to request money to replace worn-out equipment.
“It is fair to say you are five years into this conflict and equipment is being used at a higher rate than its peacetime service life would be,” Whitman said. “Those are costs directly related to the war, and we are going to have to figure out how we are going to deal with it.”
But Wheeler said the services were doing more than just replacing equipment destroyed in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was particularly critical of the Marine Corps’ decision to use the emergency spending requests to replace old helicopters with the new V-22 Osprey, a controversial and expensive tilt rotor airplane that has yet to be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“That is like telling your wife she has worn out the Yugo for getting to the train station and you are going to buy her a Ferrari,” Wheeler said.
But in a meeting with reporters last week, Gen. James T. Conway, the new Marine Corps commandant, said that buying outdated equipment would be wasteful.
“What we have to do is be smart about it,” Conway said. “We have to be good custodians of the nation’s resources. We have to ask ourselves: Do we buy new old stuff or do we go to the next generation of equipment and modernize in the process?”
The England memo allows services to include in the emergency funding request the costs of increasing “force capability.” That could include costs associated with increasing the size of the Marine Corps. And Conway said the Marines may request money to expand its force in the supplemental appropriation.
Earlier this year, Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker asked that Rumsfeld increase the annual Army budget to $138.8 billion, nearly $25 billion higher than limits set by the Defense Department. Current budgets must increase because the military is being asked to do more around the world, and to stay longer, the service chiefs have argued.
"[Chief of Naval Operations] Mike Mullen has got the smallest Navy he’s had since before World War II. Gen. Schoomaker is looking at refitting and resetting an Army that’s engaged mightily,” Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Mosley said last month. “The [Air Force] secretary and I are looking at recapitalizing an Air Force that’s got the oldest inventory in the history of the Air Force while we’re engaged in a global war.”
Mosley said he thinks Congress should debate whether it needs to spend more money on defense.
“I believe there should be a debate,” he said. “And there should be a set of questions asked about what are the opportunities for an increase in the top line, and how would that be spent.”