President Obama’s new budget proposals have incorporated one of the core recommendations from the Three Trillion Dollar War, which is that the funding for Iraq and Afghanistan should be included in the budget estimate.   Under the Bush presidency, nearly all funding for the wars — which now totals some $900 billion — was appropriated outside the regular budget process through a series of “emergency supplemental” appropriations.

This mechanism, which was supposed to be used for genuine unexpected emergencies like hurricanes — had several pernicious effects.  First, it hid the true cost of the war. Every year, the President’s budget presented a charade in which everyone knew that the war spending was not included in the budget but would eventually be requested.  Second, money requested through the “emergency supplementaL” was subject to a less rigorous scrutiny than ordinary money, with the result that Congressional budget analysts of both parties had little time to analyze the billions of dollars worth of contracts and other spending. This is one of the reasons for the profiteering and other consequences.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly — the use of this funding trick meant that Congress never had to make any real choices or trade-offs between war spending and other spending.  Instead, Congress played along with this charade, spending money we don’t have.  This led to ballooning deficits and increased the national debt by nearly a trillion dollars.


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