By Ann Scott Tyson and Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 3, 2006
President Bush will ask Congress for an additional $90 billion in this year's budget -- about $70 billion to continue waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $18 billion more for hurricane relief and rebuilding on the Gulf Coast, officials said yesterday.
Joel D. Kaplan, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters that the military spending figure is not final and could grow or shrink slightly. With $50 billion already authorized, supplemental military funding for 2006 totals $120 billion.
Separately, the administration will request a nearly 5 percent increase in the Pentagon's budget for fiscal 2007, seeking $439.3 billion, according to a senior defense official. The budget request, to be released Monday, includes $84.2 billion for weapons systems, or roughly an 8 percent increase over the 2006 budget, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the budget had not been released.
Donald E. Powell, appointed by Bush to oversee the Gulf Coast recovery effort, announced the request for more hurricane-related funding.
"We certainly welcome additional federal assistance," Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said in a prepared statement. "But I am highly concerned that the administration's proposal, which lacks details, will put more money into dysfunctional federal bureaucracies like FEMA and won't adequately address urgent needs such as housing, levees and flood protection."
The bulk of the $70 billion in military spending would be spent on operations -- including pay and benefits for reservists, fuel, and spare parts. A growing percentage, however, would be used to overhaul or replace worn-out equipment and to buy additional gear to protect against roadside bomb attacks, Kaplan said.
It also would cover the costs of training and equipping Iraqi and Afghan security forces and of running embassy operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There will be "some funding" in the supplemental for reconstruction, including money to maintain and protect key infrastructure. But that money is not intended to pay for major projects, Kaplan said.
The $70 billion comes on top of an estimated $320 billion spent since 2001 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the OMB. The cost of U.S. military operations -- excluding procurement of equipment -- is running at $4.5 billion a month in Iraq and $800 million in Afghanistan, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.
In addition to the $70 billion for the remainder of 2006, Kaplan estimated that an "emergency allowance" of $50 billion would be required as a "bridge fund" for war expenses anticipated in 2007. Asked by reporters whether he believed that number was too low, given the $120 billion required for 2006, Kaplan said it was simply a "plug number" not intended to approximate the final need.
Powell's request came on the same day that tornadoes tore through the New Orleans area. And it followed several federal actions that many New Orleanians found disheartening, including the administration's announcement of its opposition to a bill to establish a government-run development company that would buy destroyed homes and Bush's scant attention to the battered region in his State of the Union address.
Powell voiced his objections to the bill offered by Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) in Thursday's Washington Post, saying it was not a good long-term solution, would have weak Congressional oversight and would make the government, instead of the private sector, a broker and landlord for the region.
Baker issued a statement yesterday saying that Powell's attempt "to undermine my legislation is disappointing to say the least."
Sen. David Vitter (R. La.) said he welcomed additional funding but said he was not sure how the money was to be used. "It's tough to react when all I know is a number," he said. The $18 billion is over and above the $62 billion Congress set aside last year.
Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) said she understood that the new funds would be used to replenish FEMA's coffers and fund certain federal projects, among other things. She met with White House advisers in the afternoon.
"It's not fair to us that they didn't come up with an alternative to the Baker bill," she said. "They wanted to be open-minded. That's a trust-me attitude, and New Orleanians don't trust Washington for a single minute."
Weeks reported from New Orleans. Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.