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By Lukas Pleva September 16, 2010

Money in budgets, but supplementals aren't going away

It's been a while since we last reviewed President Obama's campaign pledge to end the use of supplemental budgets for funding wars. Supplementals provide money that comes on top of funds from annual budgets. During the campaign, Obama criticized this method of funding and promised to include war costs in the budget proposals that the White House submits to Congress at the beginning of every year.

At the time, we rated the promise In the Works, since Obama's budget for 2010 included the price tag for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were curious to see how things have unfolded since then.

As we said, the president's budget for 2010 included funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. On December 16, 2009, Obama signed a law which provided $101.1 billion "for operations and maintenance and military personnel requirements for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to support preparations to continue withdrawal from Iraq."

Earlier, however, in June, 2009, Obama had also signed a $105.9 billion supplemental spending bill to fund escalating military operations in the Middle East. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at the time that "this [was] the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan." We'll cut the president some slack on this one. Because of the way the budget process works, the only way for Obama to step up military efforts in his first year was via supplemental funding. The 2009 budget was approved in 2008, when Bush was still President.

Alas, it was not the last supplemental. On February 1, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged Congress to pass a $33 billion emergency legislation to fund a 30,000 troop-surge in Afghanistan. After repeated requests from Gates and months of debate, the House finally passed the measure on July 27, 2010, sending the bill to President Obama for signature.

We should also note that the White House has already released its budget for 2011. The administration is asking for $159.3 billion in war funding.

We consulted two budget experts, both of whom told us that there is nothing mischievous about using supplementals to fund an unforeseen change in military strategy. Scott Lilly from the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning public policy think tank, said that supplemental funding becomes a problem when you use it to fund initiatives that you can anticipate far in advance. By the time Obama announced the 30,000-troop surge in December 2009, he had already submitted the 2010 budget.

The final ruling is a bit tricky. Obama never actually advocated getting rid of supplementals completely. His promise was to end their abuse, and his criticism centered on using them for year-to-year funding. The 2009 supplemental was an inevitable result of the budget process, and this year's supplemental pays for the 30,000 troop-surge that Obama announced after the 2010 budget had already been submitted. Most important, funding for Iraq and Afghanistan is now included in annual budgets. We'll keep a close eye on this one going forward, but for now, this is a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Committee on Appropriations, Summary: FY 2010 Defense Appropriations, Dec. 15, 2009

Office of Management and Budget, Summary of the Fiscal Year 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Request, April 9, 2009

The White House, Bills Signed by the President, December 16, 2009

The Washington Post, Obama Signs War Funding Bill, by Michael Fletcher, June 16, 2009

Phone interview, Scott Lilly, Center for American Progress, June 28, 2010

Phone interview, Todd Harrison, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, June 28, 2010

The Hill, Afghanistan war supplemental bill needs to be passed this month, Reid says, by Walter Alarkon, May 6, 2010

The Hill, Gates asks for $33B in war supplemental, by Roxana Tiron, Feb. 1, 2010

CNN, Gates prods Congress on war funding, June 16, 2010

FOXNews, Gates to Congress: Stalling on War Funding Will Hurt U.S. Troops, June 17, 2010

The Huffington Post, Obama's War Supplemental: Recent Reports Strengthen The Case Against It, by Dan Froomkin, May 24, 2010

The Commercial Appeal, Congress approves $33 billion for Afghan war surge; Millington base, Tennessee also get flood rebuilding aid, July 28, 2010

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan March 3, 2009

War funding included in Obama's overall budget

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama often spoke against the Iraq war. Among the many things he didn't like about it was the way it was funded. Obama said he would end the Bush administration's practice of putting war costs in supplemental budgets and instead count spending for the Iraq war in the overall budget. He argued that it would receive greater congressional oversight and be a more honest way of addressing its impact on the deficit.

"For too long, our budget process in Washington has been an exercise in deception; a series of accounting tricks to hide the expense of our spending and the shortfalls in our revenue and hope that the American people won't notice," Obama said at a meeting on fiscal responsibility on Feb. 23, 2009. "Budgeting certain expenditures for just one year, when we know we'll incur them every year for five or 10; budgeting $0 for the Iraq war — $0 — for future years, even when we knew the war would continue; budgeting no money for natural disasters, as if we would ever go 12 months without a single flood, fire, hurricane or earthquake."

President Obama presented his first budget outline on Feb. 26, 2009. Included in fiscal year 2010 are ongoing expenses for the war in Iraq.

In a briefing that day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he could not put an exact number on how much money had been moved to the regular budget that would likely have been in a supplemental during the Bush administration. But he did list three programs that would have been moved to the regular budget — the costs of adding personnel to the Army and the Marine Corps; new programs for wounded veterans and their families; and an initiative called the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), a program that finds ways to counter roadside bombs that have caused many casualities in Iraq.

We asked Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert with the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, for his thoughts on Obama's budget outline. O'Hanlon acknowledged Obama's progress on this promise but questioned whether supplemental budgets for wars are really that bad.

"In broad terms, this is not nearly as consequential a decision as some people want to argue," O'Hanlon said. "With supplementals, we debate the costs separately rather than hiding them in the larger defense budget."

Supplementals also help make sure that defense budgets don't grow during a time of war and then stay at the larger number permanently. "If and when these wars ever end, you want to return to the base" number for the budget, he said.

We should also note that Obama will have to submit at least one supplemental war funding to Congress, because the Bush administration's last budget doesn't end until Sept. 30, 2009. The 2010 budget, which is the one Obama is working on as of this writing, goes into effect Oct. 1, 2009. We're not counting the 2009 supplemental request, which the Obama administration said would come to about $75 billion, because it's necessitated by the final Bush budget, which Obama had no control over.

Given that this is just a budget outline and we need to see whether Congress goes along with his request for a combined budget, we're rating this In the Works.

Our Sources

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