Yesterday, the House passed a comprehensive $646 billion defense spending bill by an overwhelming majority vote of 397-27. The bill authorizes “more than $100 billion in military procurement. That includes money to buy new protective vehicles and body armor for troops, and an additional $142 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” But the White House is threatening to veto the bill because it objects to, among other things, a recommended 3.5 percent military pay raise for 2008, with further increases in 2009 through 2012. The increases are “intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today.” Even after the proposed increases, the gap will still remain at 1.4 percent. In a statement of administration policy released Wednesday, White House budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” the pay raise provision because, according to them, extra pay increases are “unnecessary.”
- The White House wants to shortchange the troops while sending them into harm’s way more often. “This is a strong bill that addresses our military’s critical readiness needs, supports our troops in the field and at home, and protects the American people,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Veterans’ groups and members of Congress are rightly outraged at the administration’s callous veto threat. “The president just vetoed legislation so he would be able to send more troops into the middle of the Iraqi…civil war — without end, mind you — but is against increasing benefits to the spouses of those lost, or a pay increase for those who are serving,” wrote Jon Soltz, the co-founder of VoteVets.org, yesterday. “If there’s a more fitting definition of ‘outrage,’ I’d love to see it.” Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) said that “The president is a lot of talk when it comes to supporting the troops and their families…But actions matter and when it comes to the treatment of our troops and their families, our resources must match our rhetoric.” Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Bush administration has shortchanged the troops in uniform while simultaneously sending them into harm’s way.
- Troops are facing increased strain as the escalation strategy drags on. In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he was “extending the tours of duty for active duty Army troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months.” To no surprise, many soldiers reacted to the forced extensions with “anger,” “frustration,” and a “collective groan.” The White House is now facing increased pressure “to ease the strain on the lives of military families suffering as a result of the extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and frequent redeployment.” A recent Pentagon report also found that the more soldiers are deployed, the more likely they are to “suffer mental health problems such as combat trauma, anxiety, and depression,” contributing to increased problems at home. A provision in the defense bill passed by the House yesterday was aimed at helping soldiers struggling with divorce at home, preventing them from “permanently losing custody of their children because of the absence,” but with Bush’s veto threat that legal relief is now in jeopardy.
- The troops on the ground do not have the equipment they need. The Army began the Iraq war with an estimated $56 billion equipment shortage. Since then soldiers and their families have been complaining that troops on the ground have not been provided with the protective gear and equipment they need. In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was famously confronted at a town hall discussion in Kuwait by an active-duty soldier who asked, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?” As recently as February, U.S. Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan lacked more than 4,000 of “the latest Humvee armor kit, known as the FRAG Kit 5,” which is specifically “designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs…that are now inflicting 70 percent of the American casualties” in Iraq. Shortages in body armor for troops have also been a constant problem, forcing many families to buy the armor on their own, “despite assurances from the military that the gear will be in hand before [troops are] in harm’s way.” A Defense department audit released in January found that many soldiers have been sent to Iraq “without enough guns, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to ‘effectively complete their missions’ and have had to cancel and postpone some assignments while waiting for the proper gear.”