SUPPLEMENTAL SPENDING.

Noah highlights the fact that about a third of the new war supplemental bill is for weapons not directly related to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The latest war-funding bill might pay for more than just the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could add billions of dollars' worth of the latest manned and robotic aircraft to American fleets, as well. Nearly a third of the $165.4 billion measure, $51.8 billion, would be "devoted to new weapon systems," Inside Defense reports.

Since 2005, the Defense Department has used these so-called "supplemental," "emergency" funding measures to buy new gear. First, it was equipment worn out by war. Then, upgrades to those depleted items. Finally, a recent Congressional Budget Office report notes, the Pentagon began to use these war-time kitties to "accelerate planned purchases of new systems, address emerging needs, and enhance the military’s capability not only to continue current operations but also to be better prepared for the longer war on terrorism."

Of course, as the war develops new weapon systems will come in to use, so it's not strictly helpful to think only in terms of the replacement of worn or destroyed platforms. Moreover, it's kind of nice to think that part of the war supplemental may be going somewhere other than down the drain; being able to use weapons in a future conflict is, all things equal, a good thing.

The problem is that civilian oversight of the defense budget is growing more and more distant and lax. Thirty years ago the size of the defense budget was the subject of vigorous national debate, as were its various constituent elements. Now there hardly seems to be a peep on Capitol Hill about some of the largest budgets on record. The war supplementals are both more and less controversial than the main budget; they obviously carry a lot of political baggage, but at the same time it appears relatively easy to sneak in whatever the services want. All told, it's not a good way to handle long term military procurement.

--Robert Farley

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