Congress expects $100 billion war request
By Peronet Despeignes,
Congress expects the White House to request as much as $100 billion this year for war and related costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional officials say.
It would be the third and largest Iraq-related budget request from the White House yet, and it could push the war's costs over $200 billion - far above initial White House estimates of $50 billion-$60 billion. So far, the Iraq war has cost about $130 billion, according to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.
War costs complicate President Bush's plans for initiatives such as overhauling Social Security. They also threaten his pledge to halve the record $413 billion federal budget deficit.
Jim Dyer, chief of staff of the House Appropriations Committee, traditionally the first stop in Congress for any official request for money, said he expects a funding proposal from the Bush administration by Easter that "could be around $100 billion," the vast majority of it for Iraq.
In the Senate, Bill Hoagland, the top budget aide to Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, agreed: "Based on current spending profiles, it would not surprise me if ... (a bill) approaching $100 billion is requested early this year." That would be equal to almost one-quarter of the Pentagon's $417.5 billion 2005 budget.
Both expect the proposal to come as a "supplemental" spending request, a move that would keep it out of the budget Bush will submit in February.
The White House budget office declined to comment on the number. "It's too early to say what our needs will be," spokesman Chad Kolton said. He said the Iraq request is being kept out of the budget to provide time to get a more accurate cost estimate and to make it easier to reduce funding when U.S. troops are eventually withdrawn.
Members of Congress expect a big price tag for Iraq this year.
"I hope they ask for something big," said Sen. Lindsey Graham), R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee "Look, this is a test of wills. We need to show our enemies that we are not going to do this on the cheap. "
But there is growing annoyance with the White House for refusing to treat the cost of the military operations in Iraq - roughly $5 billion a month, according to the House Appropriations Committee - as part of the annual budget.
"There is a feeling among a lot of members that ... this war has become enough of a routine that they should be able to build it into their annual budgeting and not have to come back to us for supplemental funding of that size," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., head of the House Appropriations panel that oversees spending on foreign operations.
"The annual budget proposal we've been given by the White House falsely portrays the bottom line," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.