By DALE McFEATTERS
In a small, but symbolically significant move, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Judd Gregg. R-N.H., is considering treating the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a regular budget item.
The Bush administration has spent $440 billion so far on those wars, $120 billion of it this fiscal year, and the meter is running at the rate of $4.5 billion a month in Iraq and $800 million a month in Afghanistan.
The wars have been funded in a series of five emergency spending measures. The emergency bills, as their name implies, are intended to deal with sudden, unexpected and short-term emergencies like Katrina. The bills are passed outside the regular appropriations process and are carried off budget, which, while completely transparent, tends to minimize the apparent cost.
. Gregg would begin by capping the amount for the wars that could be funded through the emergency process. The rest would be treated as a regular expenditure.
Recall that the war in Iraq especially was to be short and cheap. Bush economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey was openly derided by his White House colleagues when he predicted in 2002 that the war might cost up to $200 billion.
Gregg’s proposal is mostly bookkeeping, but what it means is that rather than an emergency expense of finite duration, that wars will be treated for budget purposes as routine, regular, reoccurring expenditures.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.