Lawmakers, analysts question Pentagon troop increase methods

Top Pentagon officials say the Army will pay for a temporary increase in troop levels through emergency supplemental funds in fiscal 2004 and fiscal 2005, but lawmakers and budget analysts accuse the Bush administration of playing fast and loose with annual appropriations while banking on the fiscal cover afforded by invoking emergency powers and spending authorities.

Historically, troop level increases are planned and funded with congressional approval through regular appropriations. But last week, the Army's top uniformed official announced an increase of about 30,000 soldiers over the next four years using emergency authorities granted to the administration, in an effort to lessen the burden on soldiers on protracted deployment in Iraq.

Lawmakers including Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., support the idea but feel that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is using his authority to sidestep lawmakers' oversight of congressionally mandated troop levels. Tauscher, who introduced legislation last year that would increase military end-strength over a five-year period, said Rumsfeld is setting a dangerous precedent.

"We have to get him to agree to do it the right way," she told CongressDailyAM. "This is the second budget the president has submitted where he doesn't recognize we're having a major war in Iraq."

In response, Tauscher and others are scrubbing the president's budget request for the $2 billion or so needed to pay for the troop increase in fiscal 2005. "I'm looking at offsets as we speak," she said.

Chris Hellman, director of the Project on Military Spending at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said Rumsfeld's temporary troop level increase is a pre-emptive tactic to thwart lawmakers' efforts to make it permanent. And by using emergency appropriations to pay for the increase, the funds do not appear to increase overall spending, they do not apply to the annual deficit, and they are not locked into the annual appropriation process.

"This is the danger you get into once you decide annual supplementals are an appropriate way to budget every year," Hellman said. "It becomes the rule, and there is no oversight, and it gets kicked through very fast -- it's perfect."

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