Gates’s Money Pit

If it’s mid-year it must be Supplemental Time.

This year, instead of the services trawling Capitol Hill for dollars to fund the war effort, Defense Secretary (and Occasional Super Hero) Robert M. Gates has told lawmakers “We need $33 billion by July 4.” The Senate passed its bill in late May, but the House shifted its efforts to education and Medicaid funding. This may sound ridiculous to the Tony Soprano arm of defense funding, but large segments of voters have interest in these programs over war funding.

Gates warned lawmakers that without this money, the Defense Department would have to do “stupid things.” (We assume these are different from the stupid things that have become routine.) Gates threats included employee furloughs, disruption of Pentagon programs and an inability to pay uniformed members. (Not that DoD offered to look at cutting the many questionable offices established in the past decade or two.) Maybe the services will have to forego pay raises. We don’t sense Gates is will willing to make too many sacrifices in those areas.

Congress is aware there is trouble in paradise, stateside and abroad. Weapons systems costs continue to spiral out of control. Procurement fights are ongoing. Then there is the matter of the delay of the Kandahar offensive. Gen. Stanley “Rolling Stone” McChrystal, former head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said he was having some problems with local support. And oh, by the way, it would be a bloody summer.

Though the administration is not looking at troop reduction there until 2011, members of Congress must have concerns over sending good money after bad. (It is an election year. It is American taxpayer money.) Representatives are angling for their districts, as they should. Plow another plane into the Pentagon, and Gates will have their attention.

But lawmakers are stuck. They will have to approve the supplemental, and that’s unfortunate. Every year it is promised that next year will be different, but it remains the same. The same dance with Congress approving the plus-up. Could this be extorting money from the American people? When will someone say, “Whoa?”

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