WASHINGTON -- Among the features of America’s military involvement in Libyan airspace that has given some lawmakers pause: the cost. At a time when belt-tightening is the domestic political rage, writing checks to help support a no-fly zone half a world away has, for some critics, raised the question of President Barack Obama's budget priorities.
On Monday, National Journal tallied costs from the first day of Libya air strikes, estimating that the launch of more than 100 tomahawk missiles totaled somewhere from $112 million to $168 million. Within that range lie the cuts that House Republicans have proposed to the National Weather Service budget -- money that would be used for, among other things, tsunami-warning systems.
According to administration officials, however, the choice facing the president is not an either/or, since there are no current plans to ask Congress for a supplemental bill to pay for the military intervention in Libya.
"The operation in Libya is being funded with existing resources at this point. We are not planning to request a supplemental at this time,” Office of Management and Budget spokesman Kenneth Baer said Monday.
That seems to indicate the administration's confidence that the military mission will be brief, as White House officials have insisted -- though if historical precedent is any guide, the president could likely secure additional funds for a longer campaign should he press Congress for them. Some lawmakers, however, worry that the no-fly zone, pitched as a mere days-long commitment, will serve as a gateway to a larger military engagement.
Under law, the Defense Department has a great deal of discretion over its funding and the upward adjustment of early cost estimates. Tomahawk missiles, for instance, can be fired without immediately being replaced.
But congressional officials predict that the well on flexible Pentagon funds will run dry at around $1 billion. Beyond that, Congress will have to appropriate more funds.
“We will probably have to do a supplemental this year,” a top House aide said. “Unless they drastically curtail these activities.”
A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee told The Huffington Post that the committee is in contact with the Pentagon as to what “the expectations and the needs may be” in terms of further involvement in Libya. As of early Monday afternoon, however, the spokesman said the committee had received no response.