President Bush asked Congress yesterday for $82 billion in emergency spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the Indian Ocean tsunami, making good on a pledge to dramatically scale up efforts to train and equip Iraqi security forces ahead of an eventual U.S. withdrawal.
The package includes $74.9 billion for U.S. military forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $5.7 billion to train and equip Iraqi forces. The latter sum represents more than a tenfold increase in spending on Iraqi forces over last year's request. An additional $1.3 billion would go toward training and equipping security forces in Afghanistan.
"With the help of the United States and coalition partners, the Iraqi and Afghan people have set their countries on the path of democracy and freedom," Bush said in a statement. "As both nations work to cement this great progress, our troops and assistance will continue to play a critical role. . . . I urge the Congress to move quickly so our troops and diplomats have the tools they need to succeed."
White House officials announced several weeks ago that they would request around $82 billion for the current fiscal year; they released details yesterday. It is one of the largest emergency requests in recent U.S. history, coming on top of $25 billion already allocated for the war in 2005. The sum exceeds the president's combined 2006 funding request for the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development, and it is nearly five times the savings Bush is seeking next year in cuts to discretionary spending.
"This is a lot of money," said Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
If enacted, the president's request will push Pentagon war costs since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to more than $275 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. The cost of the Iraq war alone is approaching $200 billion.
"We're now officially about to hit a $200 billion war, with a likelihood of hitting $300 billion, a near-certainty it will reach 250 [billion] and a distinct possibility we'll reach 400 [billion]," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution.
In the Request
Major components of the White House's $82 billion supplemental spending request for fiscal 2005.
There appears to be little doubt Bush will get his request. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) said the panel will take up the measure in early March, with a House vote shortly thereafter. "It is my hope that we can have this important bill on the president's desk in early April," he said in a statement.
The bill reflects, in part, the monetary cost of a war in Iraq that has not gone as expected. Of the total, $12 billion would go toward repairing or replacing military equipment chewed up by a grinding guerrilla war in the desert. That includes $3.3 billion for armoring vulnerable convoy trucks, adding new defense systems to helicopters and buying other armored vehicles and night-vision equipment.
Nearly $460 million is designated to replace Black Hawk and Apache helicopters destroyed in Iraq. Another $2.4 billion would be used to repair Bradley Fighting Vehicles, upgrade Abrams tanks and armored personnel carriers, and bolster armor protection in vehicles bound for Iraq. About $475 million would fund ammunition for the Army.
Defense Department war planners had hoped to avoid much of that cost, replacing used equipment slowly as more modern weapons systems became available. But with about 150,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, the Pentagon does not have that luxury.
A large part of the request, $36.3 billion, would go to the combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $5 billion would be used to help the Army break down its huge divisions into smaller, more mobile "modular" brigades as part of a major reorganization.
Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank, which has research contracts with the Pentagon, said such "modularity" costs -- while necessary -- hardly constitute an emergency and should have been included in the president's base budget unveiled last week. Much of the costs of replacing equipment will probably turn out to be regular weapons-procurement costs not related to Iraq emergencies, Thompson suggested.
"Why this funding is in an emergency supplemental [request] is hard to explain. It looks as though they want a bigger defense budget without admitting it," he said.
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans and Democrats have criticized the Pentagon's reliance on the supplemental request, saying it curtails congressional oversight and distorts understanding of defense spending. "It removes from our oversight responsibilities the scrutiny that these programs deserve," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told military service chiefs at a hearing Thursday.
But the biggest questions will likely revolve around the tenfold increase in funding for Iraqi security forces. Republican and Democratic defense appropriations aides in Congress said the $5.7 billion request raised numerous questions about how much would go to training, how much would be for equipment, and how much might be used simply to pay beleaguered Iraqi police and national guard units.
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.