Talks begin on next round of supplemental defense spending

As the Senate approved an $82 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental spending bill Tuesday to cover war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, House appropriators were already discussing adding more money for war costs not covered in 2006 Defense spending.

The Pentagon also was laying groundwork for another supplemental request as early as August, although the need for that money might be obviated if the funds being discussed by the House are added.

The House proposal -- likely for more than the $25 billion provided as a stopgap last summer and perhaps as much as $40 million -- is intended to serve as a "bridge" to cover estimated Pentagon costs between the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1 and whenever Congress can enact a fiscal 2006 supplemental spending bill.

The Senate approved the 2005 supplemental, 100-0. Some of that money is badly needed by the Army, which has been forced to dip into other Pentagon accounts in the interim.

But the Pentagon is already telling appropriators to expect a new supplemental request, as early as August. Based on current burn rates, that might also total $35-40 billion. Although the bridge fund might delay the need for another supplement, the White House is urging lawmakers to hold off for now.

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., said Pentagon officials have told him the 2005 supplemental, which contains $75.9 billion for military operations, might not last the entire fiscal year. "I don't think there's any doubt about" the need for a bridge fund, Young said.

A final figure has not been settled on, and some influential members are pushing for more. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., wants up to $50 billion in bridge funds, for example. The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee plans to take up its 2006 bill, for which House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., has allocated $363.4 billion, the week of May 23. The Senate Appropriations Committee will not take up spending bills until after the Memorial Day recess.

Last year, appropriators included $25 billion in stopgap funding as part of the 2005 Defense spending bill, which was made available before the start of the new fiscal year. House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member John Murtha, D-Pa., said Tuesday the Pentagon would need at least that amount and probably more this year. "We have to do something," he said. "We have to have a bridge fund."

Murtha identified $15 billion that would be necessary "to start," as well as an additional $20 billion or so to cover equipment shortages. Other needs include $2.2 billion for troops' health benefits that also went into the 2005 supplemental, as well as $5.3 billion lawmakers provided to support the Pentagon's "modularity" initiative, which the administration requested to begin transforming the Army and Marine Corps into smaller, more flexible units.

Also, an additional $3.3 billion should be included in a bridge fund, replenishing funds Lewis reduced from the initial 2006 Defense bill allocation to help pay for other programs, Murtha said.

Amid grumbling from House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., and other Democrats, the full committee on Tuesday approved its 302(b) allocations for the 11 spending bills the panel will consider this year on a party-line, 35-23 vote.

While praising Lewis for being fair in parceling out 2006 funds, Obey said the allocations amounted to "simply shuffling shells in an elaborate shell game" based on an inadequate $843 billion overall discretionary spending cap handed down by the budget committees.

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