On the April 3 edition of ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson uncritically reported President Bush's assertion that congressional Democrats are “denying the troops the equipment they need to succeed,” but failed to offer any Democratic response. In fact, as Media Matters for America previously noted, both the House and Senate have passed emergency supplemental funding bills for the Iraq war and will meet in conference to reconcile the two versions into one bill for the president's signature. It is Bush who would stop funding to the troops if he carries out his threat to veto the final version. Further, while reporting Bush's suggestion that “wrangling” between the White House and Congress over the funding bill is “denying the troops” equipment -- suggesting that the absence of a signed bill has already affected the troops -- Gibson ignored a March 28 Congressional Research Service (CRS) memo stating that the Army is currently able to finance the war through most of July.
In omitting any Democratic response, ABC let stand unrebutted Bush's claim that "[i]f Congress fails to act" there will be “significant consequences” for the troops. In fact, Congress has acted and has indicated an intention to continue acting within the necessary time. In contrast to ABC, an April 4 Associated Press article reported that "'Bush said Democrats are merely engaging in games that 'undercut the troops,' " but also included former Sen. John Edwards' (D-NC) response:
Democrats told Mr. Bush to stop blaming them for being the ones to keep money from soldiers, and to start negotiating.
'If President Bush vetoes funding for the troops, he will be the one who is blocking funding for the troops. Nobody else,'' said presidential candidate John Edwards.
An April 4 Washington Post article on the standoff also reported Democrats' response to Bush:
As Democrats see it, Bush is having a hard time adjusting to life in a two-party government. His vow to veto any spending bill with timetables for a withdrawal, they maintain, betrays a unilateral approach to governing. “He is president of the United States, not king of the United States,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) told reporters in his home state. “He has another branch of government, a legislative branch of government, he has to deal with.”
Gibson's uncritical repetition of Bush's assertion that “wrangling” between the White House and Congress over the emergency supplemental funding bill is “denying the troops the equipment they need to succeed” ignores the fact, that according to the March 28 CRS memo, the funds available to the Army through the previous year's defense appropriations bill are adequate to “finance the O&M [operations and maintenance] of both its baseline and war program ... through most of July 2007.” From the memo:
Based on Army data and estimates, the Army could finance its O&M expenses through the end of May by tapping the $52.6 billion in O&M funding already provided by Congress in the FY2007 DOD Appropriations Act.
The Army could also tap additional funds if DOD transferred funds from other appropriations -- funds that could later be restored once the FY2007 supplemental is passed. DOD has a total of $7.5 billion in transfer authority for FY2007 funds.
If the Army temporarily tapped all this transfer authority, it could have a total of $60.1 billion available, rather than $52.6 billion. Based on projections of monthly obligations rates, the Army could finance the O&M costs of both its baseline and war program for almost two additional months or through most of July 2007, if it tapped all of this transfer authority. It would be $1.4 billion short of meeting total July obligations. If DOD used only some of its transfer authority, the Army could last through the end of June 2007."
The Army has suggested that these actions would disrupt its programs including facilities repair, depot maintenance, and training. In order to ensure that funding is available for the later months of the year, the Army may very well decide that it must slow down its non-war-related operations before money would run out by, for example, limiting facility maintenance and repairs, delaying equipment overhauls, restricting travel and meetings, and, perhaps, slowing down training.
Moreover, a separate April 4 Washington Post article reported that the Pentagon “routine[ly]” transfers funds from elsewhere in the defense budget to ensure that “operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not disrupted” :
Despite Bush's warnings, dire consequences can be avoided even after the money starts to run out. It has become routine in recent years for Pentagon accountants to move money around in the department's half-trillion-dollar budget to make sure operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not disrupted. The money is repaid, usually with minimal disruption, when the president signs a new war spending bill.
From the April 3 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
GIBSON: In Washington, President Bush sharpened his criticism of Democrats in Congress today, calling them irresponsible for approving military funding bills that set timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and then going home for Easter. The president said again he will veto the legislation. The wrangling, he said, is denying the troops the equipment they need to succeed.
BUSH [video clip]: They ought to get to the bill to my desk as quickly as possible and I'll veto it, and then we can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without withdrawal dates. If Congress fails to act in the next few weeks, it will have significant consequences for our men and women in the armed forces.
GIBSON: The president today at the White House.