A Very Long Emergency

A VERY LONG EMERGENCY….The LA Times reports today that the Army is engaged in a sort of sit-down strike, refusing to submit a budget until it gets more money:

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

….According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army’s budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker’s request a 41% increase over current levels.

“It’s incredibly huge,” said the Army official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity when commenting on internal deliberations. “These are just incredible numbers.”

Army budgeting, like pretty much all federal budgeting, is an arcane science that one is well advised to approach carefully. To the extent that Schoomaker is just playing hardball because expensive new weapons systems have turned out to be more expensive than anticipated (surprise!), this is little more than an age-old wrestling match playing out between adversaries who are both well versed in bureaucratic warfare.

However, the bigger part of the problem is that the Bush administration, in its usual political approach to policy issues, has decided to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars almost entirely via emergency appropriations. This makes life easier for Bush, who gets to imply that these expenses are temporary without actually having to defend that belief, but the problem is that these wars also have a significant effect on day-to-day Army affairs. Unfortunately, the day-to-day Army isn’t getting any money to deal with them.

This will be an interesting fight to watch. It might play out entirely in the shadows, but eventually I suspect it’s going to have to become more public. It would be a good chance for Democrats to insist on a more realistic approach to defense budgeting in the age of terror.