February 16, 2005

Harman joins criticism of Bush administration's budget tactics
Democrats say president evades scrutiny by paying for war with supplemental spending bills.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is evading accountability for its war spending by wrapping it into huge supplemental spending bills like the one President Bush proposed this week, Rep. Jane Harman, D-El Segundo, said Tuesday.

Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, joined several colleagues in pushing for legislation that would require the administration to give Congress a fuller accounting of how the money is being spent on Iraq, Afghanistan and some intelligence and counter-terrorism initiatives.

But Harman said she would not oppose the $82 billion spending request, despite voting against a similar proposal last year.

"This process of budgeting by supplemental is the way that the administration escapes scrutiny for some of its spending priorities and the way it gets around congressional oversight," Harman said. "A supplemental should be for true emergencies. This war on terror has morphed into an era of terror. ... A lot of things that are in the supplemental should be in the ordinary funding process."

The $81.9 billion Bush requested Monday includes money for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, aid for victims of the south Asian tsunami and money for homeland security functions.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, vowed that lawmakers would scrutinize the proposal. "Congress will exercise our constitutional obligations while expediting the consideration of this request," he said.

Democrats have tried to spotlight reports of misspending in Iraq, ranging from contract abuses to a lack of funding for equipment like body armor and night-vision goggles. Senate Democrats have held their own hearings on the issue, complaining that Republicans who control Congress have not been adequately scrutinizing the problems.

"We've had countless stories on how money is being misspent," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa Valley.

Thompson and other members of a group of moderate Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition, including Harman, said they would push for legislation that would require the White House to periodically report to Congress on the details of the war spending.

"We need to show we can do effective oversight," Harman said. "We need to hold people accountable for how this money is being spent."

However, the legislation is considered a long shot. Thompson introduced similar legislation last year.

"It wasn't welcomed with open arms," he said.