Pentagon defends war-funding request amid
'slush fund' complaints
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[July 17, 2014]
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Pentagon
officials on Wednesday defended their 2015 war-spending request before
skeptical lawmakers, some of whom called the $58.6 billion plan a "slush
fund" to offset defense cuts at home and others who worried the
funding-level was too small.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told the House of
Representatives Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon's 2015
spending plans for the Afghanistan war were a third less than this
year's and $100 million less than four years ago.
Work and other officials also insisted the Pentagon had not tried to
circumvent congressional spending caps by stuffing the war-funding
request, which is not subject to the same spending limits, with
items cut from its $496 billion base budget.
"None of it is used for base budget shortfalls," said Michael
McCord, the Pentagon comptroller.
But lawmakers were skeptical of the request, which is usually
submitted along with the president's budget in the early part of the
year but was delayed due to uncertainty over a deal to keep U.S.
troops in Afghanistan after the end of the year.
"I don't know why you need this money. It's nothing but a slush fund
anyway," said Representative Walter Jones, a Republican who
represents the North Carolina district that includes the Camp
Lejeune Marine Corps Base.
Democrats also expressed concern, with Representative Tammy
Duckworth of Illinois wondering whether the new counterterror
account was "another slush fund" and Representative Adam Smith of
Washington wondering about the lack of parameters on how the money
would be spent.
Other lawmakers criticized the size of the request and the notion
that the war-funding budget should be cut in proportion to the
number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama
has decided to reduce to 9,800 by year's end.
"My concern isn't that the (budget) number is too high," said
Representative Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the panel.
"My concern is it's too low - both this and the base budget."
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Work said of the total $58.6 billion war-funding request, $53.7
billion would be for the Afghan war and related conflicts and nearly
$5 billion would be for new initiatives, including a
Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund.
Of the $53.7 billion, $11 billion would support U.S. forces in
Afghanistan, $18.1 billion would be for military activity in the
region directly related to the Afghanistan war, $9.2 billion would
repair or replace equipment used in the conflict and $4.1 billion
would support the Afghan National Security Forces.
Work said the new Counterterrorism Partnership Funds would include
$4 billion for the Defense Department, much of which would be used
for the U.S. military's response to the Syrian civil war.
He said $2.5 billion would be for counterterrorism support and $1
billion would be to help Syria's neighbors with security issues
related to the conflict. Some $500 million would go to train certain
Syrian rebel groups.
(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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