WASHINGTON (CN) – The “turbo team” of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jointly asked the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday for $83 billion extra for warfare, for the closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and for humanitarian efforts. They were promptly challenged by Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio. “We face a $2 trillion deficit for fiscal year 2009, which is 14 percent of the gross domestic product,” he said.
Roughly $76 billion would go to the Defense Department and $7 billion to the State Department, according to the request. The two cabinet members said they needed the money before Memorial Day.
Gates emphasized the importance of beefing up the national diplomatic corps, saying, “If you took every foreign service officer in the world, it wouldn’t be enough to crew one aircraft carrier.”
On the politically sensitive issue of Guantanamo detainees, the Defense Department has requested $50 million in construction funds, in case the United States has to continue housing the 215 detainees after Guantanamo is closed.
“I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation saying ‘not in my district, not in my state,'” Gates said.
“You can bet on it,” replied Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He then asked Gates not to send them to Fort Leavenworth, a military base in Kansas that contains the Defense Department’s only maximum security prison.
The hearing also focused on Afghanistan. Clinton requested $980 million for civilian projects to stimulate the economy, and Gates said he plans to fund the Afghan National Security Forces with $3.6 billion and spend billions more on U.S. troops.
Currently, President Barack Obama has authorized 68,000 troops to be deployed to Afghanistan, in addition to the 32,000 troops from other nations. “It’s not as much as we want, but more than we expected,” Clinton said of the commitment from other nations.
When asked if he would be seeking a troop increase, Gates replied, “I worry about the military footprint.” The Soviets had 110,000 troops in Afghanistan, they didn’t care about civilian casualties and they still couldn’t win, he said.
“Our ability to provide resources beyond military power will be the decisive factor,” Gates said.
Clinton called agricultural development in Afghanistan “our primary effort.”
“We never seriously promoted alternative livelihoods,” she said, explaining the dearth of progress despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent there. The drug economy “won’t go away by bombing it with pesticides,” she said.
The new role of the State Department in stabilizing the country by stabilizing the economy will make the difference, Clinton argued.
Apart from these expenses, Clinton designated $497 million for Pakistan, $900 million for Palestine, $448 million for developing countries hit hard by the economic crisis, $837 million for the United Nations and $747 million of additional funds to USAID.
The money would fund security and humanitarian causes.
“We will be seeking assurances that the administration is not attempting to provide any assistance to Hamas,” said Daniel Inouye, a democrat from Hawaii and chair of the committee. Clinton assured him that safeguards would be in place.
In the breakdown of Gates’ defense request, he designated $38 billion for general operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, $11.6 billion to repair and replace equipment, $9.8 billion for armor upgrades, $3.6 billion to bolster the Afghan army, $1.6 billion to care for wounded veterans, $1.5 billion to deal with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and $400 million to aid Pakistan in fighting off insurgents.
In particular, Gates called equipment to protect from IEDs a good investment. “It’s a threat that, considering its effectiveness, we should expect to see in any future conflict.”
The money for wounded veterans would be placed in the base budget so it can be sustained, he added.
Last week, Clinton and Gen. Petraeus, the U.S. Army Commander of U.S. Central Command, each made their cases for more funding for their departments in front of House appropriations subcommittees.
This week, both Gates and Clinton — referred to by one committee member as “the turbo team” — said Thursday’s testimony would be the last request for money outside of the budget, which brought a favorable reaction from Inouye.
“It is my belief that the Senate is likely to be supportive of this request,” he said.