Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Cash-strapped Pentagon warns of massive layoffs

FEED AND FORAGE Democrats say there is enough money to support the troops. Republicans warn that powers dating back to the Civil War may be necessary

AFP , WASHINGTON

The Bush administration clashed with Congress over Iraq War funding on Tuesday, with the Pentagon warning of looming layoffs and base shutdowns, dismissed by Democrats as scare tactics.

The Pentagon said it will begin notifying as many as 200,000 US Army civilian employees and contractors before Christmas that they will be temporarily laid off when army funds run out in mid-February.

"Without that money, we find ourselves in real difficulty. And the longer this goes on, the more precarious our situation becomes," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

"So, we believe it's advisable the [Congress] pass a budget that is signable by the president," he told reporters.

Democratic leaders vowed to withhold action on war funding until next year after Republicans blocked a US$50 billion war funding bill that would have imposed a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

US President George W. Bush, who threatened to veto the bill, is seeking US$196.4 billion with no such strings attached to fund the wars.

Republicans and the White House meanwhile tried to maneuver anti-war Democrats into a corner -- accusing them of callously withholding vital financing for frontline troops in Iraq, as Christmas approaches.

"They're scaring people. They're scaring the families of the troops ... That's the thing that's so despicable about what they're doing," veteran anti-war Democratic congressman John Murtha said.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has notified Congress that he will move US$4.5 billion from various accounts to fund a Pentagon organization set up to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices, Morrell said.

The army and the marine corps are shifting money from their operational accounts to cover their respective service's costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, but those funds will last only until the middle of February for the army and the middle of March for the marines, he said.

Morrell said the Pentagon would then have to evoke extraordinary "feed and forage" powers that date back to the Civil War to supply troops deployed in combat zones.

"At that point, the bases will be all but shut down, only able to provide the most basic safety and security measures for those who reside there," he said, referring to US army bases in the US.

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