Republicans Call Bush's Bluff On War Funding Threats

03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two Republican lawmakers are calling the Bush administration's bluff in the battle over Iraq war legislation.

President Bush and other top administration officials have threatened to furlough 200,000 Pentagon employees if Democrats do not meet Bush's requests for war funding.

But in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Virginia Republicans Tom Davis and Frank Wolf say the administration's threat is baseless, because the Pentagon has the authority to make shifts in its budget to avoid forcing employees to take leaves of absences.

Noting the billions of dollars the Defense Department has at its discretion, Davis and Wolf say they "adamantly disagreed" with Gates' assessment that payroll freezes may be needed.

"We understand that the Army will face funding shortfalls if the President and the Congress cannot resolve the impasse over the fiscal year 2008 war funding," the letter reads. "We believe, however, that the Department of Defense has an obligation to use every tool at its discretion not to furlough civilian or contract employees."

The letter -- also signed by Reps. Jim Moran, D-VA, Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-MD, Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, John Sarbanes, D-MD, and Elijah Cummings, D-MD -- comes less than a month after Congress passed a $459 billion defense spending bill. The Pentagon has "general transfer authority of $3.7 billion" and can also reallocate $8 billion of "excess working capital fund cash" to meet other budget, the letter states.

Citing this monetary flexibility, Rep. Moran labeled Gates' doomsday furlough proclamation an "old budget showdown tactic." Indeed, President Bush, himself, has been ramping up the rhetoric, repeatedly warning of severe damages to the Defense Department in the absence of an agreement on Iraq War funds.

"Given that the administration's threats were announced on the heels of Congress passing the largest defense spending bill ever, their cries of poor mouth raise a red flag the size of the North Pole," Moran said.

Congress and the White House are currently at an impasse over Iraq War funding. The House of Representatives recently passed a $50 billion supplemental measure that contains the goal of troop withdrawal by 2008. Senate Republicans filibustered the measure and President Bush, who requested $196 billion, said he would not sign it.

At a press conference in mid-November, a Pentagon spokesman said that without resolution between the two parties, the Army would have to cease all base operations and furlough "about 100,000 government employees and a like number of contractor employees at Army bases." A few days later, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody ordered commanders to prepare plans for widespread layoffs of civilian personnel in the absence of war funding.

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