Thief-In-Chief: Funny Money on Iraq

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At www.nytimes.com

Bush is trying to score unearned points for fiscal rectitude by railing against the Senate's outsize $109 billion supplemental spending package, which includes money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as hurricane relief. But the real scandal is Mr. Bush's own preference for financing much of the cost of the Iraq war outside the normal budget process. That is convenient for the administration, which does not have to count the money when it is pretending to balance the budget. But Iraq is not some kind of unexpected emergency, like Hurricane Katrina. It is a highly predictable cost, now amounting to about $100 billion a year, or just under 20 percent of total military spending. Moving the war's financing off budget is no mere technical distinction. For one thing, it subjects the military's spending requests to less careful Congressional committee scrutiny than they would receive during the usual budget process. More important, this fiscal sleight of hand makes it that much easier for the Pentagon to duck the hard choices it desperately needs to be making between optional and costly futuristic weapons and pressing real-world needs.

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At www.nytimes.com

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