July 14, 2011 – 9:12 p.m.

Pentagon Seeks Authority to Shift Millions to Cover Libya Expenses

The Pentagon fairly routinely asks Congress to shift around previously appropriated money to meet urgent needs.

But buried in a 91-page, $5.18 billion reprogramming request quietly sent to Capitol Hill about two weeks ago are several lines related to Libya that could draw tough scrutiny from lawmakers.

The Pentagon wants to reallocate $372 million to help cover the cost of U.S. participation in the nearly four-month-old NATO military mission. This is the first time the Obama administration has had to ask Congress for money for its Libya policy, which is a sore subject among lawamakers who resent that the White House has not sought congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution (PL 93-148).

President Obama has not requested a penny in new money for the Libya operation — nor, officials say, will he — even though the administration estimates the cost will top $1 billion by Oct. 1. The Pentagon said Thursday the monthly cost is now about $100 million.

The proposed budget shuffle for operations in Libya would largely cover the cost of munitions. The most costly item is $310 million sought to replace 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired into Libya. Another $20 million would be used to replace 704 Joint Direct Attack Munition smart bombs. The reprogramming also includes $15 million for general purpose bombs and $5 million for 42 Predator Hellfire missiles.

The rest of the Pentagon’s costs in Libya are being covered by redirecting funds in ways not requiring congressional approval.

The Pentagon said it spent $820 million on its efforts to help Libyan rebels through June 30. More than half of that was expended in the first dozen days of the operation, when the United States was in the lead and dropping those expensive bombs and missiles. The U.S. military has since taken a back-up role to NATO allies.

The reprogramming request needs approval from the defense policy and spending panels in both chambers, a stamp of approval that may prove difficult to obtain.

The House came close last week to barring the Pentagon from using any fiscal 2012 appropriations to pay for the Libyan campaign. Among the 199 House members who supported an amendment to that effect offered to the Defense appropriations bill (HR 2219) were several holding senior positions on the Defense authorizing and appropriating committees.

The supporters included Armed Services Committee Republicans Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Todd Akin of Missouri, as well as Republican appropriator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Appropriations Committee members Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Maurice D. Hinchey of New York.

The Senate has not held a similar vote on funding for military involvement in Libya. Action on a resolution (S J Res 20) authorizing limited operations in Libya has been repeatedly deferred in that chamber.

The Pentagon’s reprogramming request could also face opposition for reasons unrelated to Libya policy. John McCain of Arizona, the top-ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services panel, criticized the Pentagon Thursday for proposing to transfer funds to cover cost overruns on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. “I intend to strongly oppose future reprogramming requests unless they can be fully justified to the American taxpayer,” McCain vowed.