Government Spending

The War-Spending Debate You Won't Hear This Week

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The Iraq War is being paid for via the most fiscally irresponsible method in modern American history—a series of "emergency" supplemental bills, outside the normal vetting of the budgeting process, several years after any of the costs could at all be described as being unplanned "emergencies." You knew all this, because you read Veronique de Rugy's groundbreaking May cover story about how congressional Republicans ripped the lid off of all previous restraints on a system that is as easy to abuse as the phrase "support our troops."

This week we are experiencing the ugly results—Democrats are cramming into the latest $195 billion emergency supplemental bill $11 billion in unemployment benefits, among other non-defense items. That likely pales in comparison to the cost of unvetted weaponry goodies that the Department of Defense is shoving into the package; meanwhile,  President Bush has also thrown in extraneous crap, such as $770 million for international food aid.

If the federal government was playing by rules that were in effect as recently as 2000, emergency expenditures would mostly be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, war funding would have been enveloped into the normal defense-budgeting process by no later than 2005, and—this bit is underappreciated—we might actually know the real-world price tag of the war, because budgeteers would have made at least a half-assed attempt at filing war-related expenditures under the same category, instead of willfully blurring the lines.

Instead of any of that, politicians this week, including the major-party presidential candidates, will argue about withdrawal timetables that'll never become law, then eventually agree to spend another couple hundred billion dollars without anything resembling oversight or basic fiduciary responsibility. And if Democrats aren't making even the slightest noises about reforming this system now, it's hard to imagine them suddenly getting religion only after increasing their majorities in Congress and re-taking the White House.