Appropriators angered by Joint Chiefs' supplemental request

Confusion and frustration over the fiscal year 2001 Defense supplemental advocated by the Bush administration continued Wednesday, as a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said the powerful panel was angered to learn about a $10 billion supplemental request the Joint Chiefs of Staff had made directly to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month. "We were extremely surprised to hear that they briefed the authorizing committee ahead of appropriators," said a House Appropriations spokesman. "It appears that the Joint Chiefs need a civics lesson. The last time I checked, supplemental spending had to be approved by the appropriations committee." The problem began when, two weeks before their first meeting with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Tuesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent their emissaries to Capitol Hill to lobby the Senate Armed Services Committee staff, for an extra $10 billion for fiscal 2001, National Journal News Service reported. Evidently sensing an end run at Congress, Rumsfeld, a veteran Washington operative on his second tour as the Pentagon's chief executive, issued a cease-and-desist order to the armed services Tuesday, according to sources. This forced the Navy and Army to cancel additional briefings they had scheduled this week to lay out their money problems to congressional committee staffs. But the horse is already out of the barn, in the form of detailed briefing papers the armed services presented to the Senate committee's staff Jan. 10. The papers, obtained by National Journal News Service, cite a shortfall for fiscal year 2001 consisting of $2.9 billion in the Army, $2.3 billion in the Navy, $1.8 billion in the Air Force and $899 million in the Marine Corps. In addition to that $7.9 billion total, the services have warned Congress they are $2 billion short on pay raises and military health care, for a grand total of about $10 billion. In addition, the military is likely to seek even more before Rumsfeld comes to Congress with his supplemental budget request for fiscal year 2001 and his revised budget for fiscal year 2002. Although House Appropriations Chairman Young and Senate Appropriations Chairman Stevens vigorously support Bush's campaign pledge to increase defense spending, the committee spokesman said, "That's just not a good way to start off. The last place the committee wants to read about this [spending request] is in the news. We would rather read it in a letter from the OMB director." A senior House Appropriations aide also questioned whether various components of the Defense Department's fiscal year 2001 supplemental request--such as the pay raise--actually constitute emergencies or could be dealt with in the regular fiscal year 2002 budget cycle. The aide pointed out that military pay increased 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2001 and 4.8 percent in fiscal 2000, and the most recent increase went into effect only this month. Despite the Joint Chiefs' apparently premature request, which was not made to his committee, Stevens told reporters Tuesday, "I don't expect we'll have a supplemental for awhile." Stevens was equally noncommittal about the final price tag: "It's difficult to answer how much money will be available [for fiscal year 2001]. We're going to need 60 votes no matter what we do."

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