For all the debate over President Bush's $87 billion supplemental request for military operations and economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, no one seems to have noticed that the sum includes a slush fund of at least $9.3 billion, which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld can spend pretty much as he pleases.
Last week, the congressional armed services committees—and this week the House Appropriations Committee—marked up the supplemental, excising a few hundred million that Bush had requested for new hospitals, housing, and sanitation. But the committees didn't touch a nickel of the slush fund—and there's a cravenly wink-and-nudge reason why they didn't.
Most of the supplemental request is fairly straightforward: $32 billion to maintain the tempo of military operations, $18 billion for military personnel, $5.1 billion for security and a new Iraqi army, $5.7 billion for electrical power, and so forth.
But deep within, the document proposes the following allowance:
Not less than $1.4 billion, to remain available until expended, may be used, notwithstanding any other provision of law, for payments to reimburse Pakistan, Jordan, and other key cooperating nations, for logistics, military and other support provided, or to be provided, to United States military operations.
First, look closely at those first three words: Not less than. In other words, Rumsfeld could transfer more than $1.4 billion for this purpose—how much more, who can say? The section goes on to say that Rumsfeld must notify the appropriate congressional committees whenever he uses any of this money, and that the payments must be made with the concurrence of the secretary of state. But otherwise, the bill emphasizes that he alone determines how to spend this money "and such determination is final and conclusive."
Another section, subtitled the "Iraq Freedom Fund," states that the secretary of defense can transfer $1,988,600,000 from one part of the overall $87 billion supplemental to any other part, again, as long as he notifies the committees when he does this. (As with the previous allowance, the committees appear to have no power to disapprove these transfers.)
Still another section reads:
Upon his determination that such action is necessary in the national interest, the Secretary of Defense may transfer between appropriations up to $5 billion of the funds made available in this title.
Again, he "shall notify the Congress promptly of each transfer."
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