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How to fuel up the out-of-gas US military machine

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Let us be clear: The United States has the finest fighting force in the world. But the Bush administration has supported this world-class force with second-class funding. The resulting low readiness levels put the entire country at risk. Lack of proper equipment makes it that much harder for US forces to succeed in Afghanistan or Iraq – or anywhere else.

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How Congress can make a difference

Urgent congressional efforts to repair this damage must be part of a broader strategy of finding an exit from Iraq, improving US effectiveness in the real war on terrorists, and providing spending oversight to avoid crushing debt burdens.

President Bush has used Congress as a money spigot, funding military operations through a series of emergency budget requests with no oversight. The government has spent money it didn't have and paid for it with deficit spending – essentially raising taxes on America's children.

That's about to change.

We're committed to funding major recurring war costs through the regular budget process, while ensuring that real emergencies, real unforeseen expenses, and real battlefield needs are funded quickly. With Democrats in power, the American people can expect requests by the Pentagon and administration for "emergency" supplemental funds to be scrutinized much more closely.

We understand that wars always give rise to unforeseen circumstances and unexpected needs. However, there will be no more blank checks for Defense spending unrelated to battlefield needs. Everything must be prioritized so Congress can make the most informed choices.

Last year, we asked the administration to include recurring and foreseeable funding needs in the 2008 Defense budget request that goes through the normal authorization and appropriations cycle. Instead, we received Mr. Bush's request for three separate pots of money for military operations:

•An emergency supplemental request of $93.4 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan (the second such request in 2007).

•The regular 2008 Defense Budget request of $481.4 billion.

•Another emergency supplemental request of $141.7 billion for 2008 operations in both wars.

Supplemental appropriations are supposed to address emergencies that simply cannot wait for the regular process, replacing equipment lost or damaged in battle and other "war costs." How is it that an emergency supplemental request exists to pay for emergencies next year?

The president's 2007 emergency request includes billions of dollars in developmental spending under the guise of "emergency" replacement. Supplemental spending should address emergency needs, not future defense systems that won't help soldiers on the ground for years to come. That's why we're calling on the administration to end the practice of paying for war costs with "emergency" funds.

At this moment, US forces are conducting a war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and trying to referee a civil war in Iraq – both unconventional conflicts. Yet no one would suggest the US no longer needs forces ready to fight on a conventional battlefield. Nobody knows where the next enemy may emerge or how future wars will be fought. Clearly, the US must be ready for any eventuality.

Make no mistake: The US is not at war, the US military is. The burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is being carried by our soldiers and their families. The rest of us merely observe their sacrifice on TV.

Members of Congress can do their part by giving the US military the support and equipment it needs to win.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) of Hawaii is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces. Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D) of Texas is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

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