President Obama, as a candidate, proudly committed himself to becoming a commander-in-chief who forced Congress to face the impact on the deficit that funding two wars creates. Yet, as president, on Thursday night he signed his second Supplemental Appropriations Act, which continues funding for Afghanistan and Iraq without going through the standard budgeting process. Now, the administration is not making predictions about a future war supplemental.
"I can't project what the next one is," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told Fox's Wendell Goler Tuesday.
When President Obama took office, he tried to differentiate himself from his predecessor, vowing not to fund the wars on an emergency basis through separate, or supplemental, bills submitted to Congress. By shoehorning the war costs into the yearly fiscal budget, Mr. Obama contended, members would be forced to deal with their effects on the deficit.
In February last year, the president boasted to a joint session of Congress, "[B]ecause we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead 10 years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules -- and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price."
Not quite a month and a half later, the president was asking Congress for emergency funding for war operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House described it as an anomaly, saying it was a residual effect of Bush administration budgeting. In early April, Gibbs told reporters, "The efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan only have funding through half the fiscal year...[W]e can't wait until the appropriations process is done in September or -- August or September to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in June."
At that same briefing, Gibbs boldly predicted, "This will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan."
In December of 2009, the president announced a new strategy in Afghanistan. At the US Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Obama explained, "[A]s Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."
The new strategy would cost money, money that couldn't be inserted into the 2010 budget before Congress was set to vote on it and was needed before the fiscal 2011 budget would be passed.
So, the president returned to the budget table and drew up another supplemental request. He was strongly supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who outlined to Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace in June of this year the consequences of failure in getting the money approved in a timely way. "We actually begin to have to take really serious negative actions that impact our troops, as well as our civilians, in mid to -- in early to mid-August," Gates said.
After months of debate and amendments that were added and then subtracted, President Obama finally signed the supplemental spending bill Thursday night, again defying his own initial intentions.
So how is this any different from President Bush's reasoning when he said of Iraq war supplemental funding in 2007, "The purpose of this legislation should be to give our troops on the front lines the resources, funds, and equipment they need to fight our enemies"?
For Robert Gibbs, it's simple, "[A]t the end of next month, we won't have combat troops in Iraq, so it's decidedly different."