Bush to Request Billions for Wars

By Michael Abramowitz and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 3, 2007

President Bush will ask Congress for close to three-quarters of a trillion dollars in defense spending on Monday, including $245 billion to cover the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and other elements of the "global war on terror," senior administration officials said yesterday.

Democrats said the gigantic spending request will precipitate "sticker shock" on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were already planning to scrutinize White House war-spending requests more zealously.

As expected, Bush will ask Congress for an additional $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan for the current fiscal year, to go with the $70 billion already approved. He will also seek an additional $145 billion for the wars in fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, and administration officials warned that even more money probably will be needed.

Those totals come on top of regular spending for the Pentagon, which officials say will be $481 billion in 2008, a 10 percent increase over this year's budget.

If approved by Congress, the new war spending would bring the overall cost of fighting to about $745 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States -- adjusting for inflation, more than was spent on the Vietnam War.

The administration has obtained most of the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through emergency or supplemental spending bills, which are not subject to the same level of congressional scrutiny as the regular budget. That practice has drawn sharp criticism from lawmakers and members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

To answer those critics, White House budget officials say they will offer a much more detailed accounting of the costs of the war than they have previously provided, adding a special chapter to the thick budget books the president plans to send to Congress. But those details could be used by opponents of the war in arguing their case, according to lawmakers and other experts on Pentagon spending. Moreover, some war critics in Congress have served notice that they intend to use the spending bills containing the new money to try to bring the war in Iraq to a close.

"The defense budget request is the sleeper political issue of the year," said John J. Hamre, a former top Pentagon official who is chief executive of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "When you add the various supplemental requests to the baseline defense budget, you get an astounding number, a number easily exploited by political opponents."

Top House Democrats, gathered yesterday in Williamsburg for a retreat, sounded skeptical about the new defense numbers and said they will not give the president a blank check.

"This is a huge number," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who noted that it includes an "opportunity cost" that would cut into Democrats' ability to fund domestic priorities.

"You can't help but note the irony: The president calls for us to rein in spending but sends us a budget for more than $700 billion in new spending," said House Budget Committee Chairman John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.). "For Republicans who profess to oppose big spending, this will be a budget they will find hard to swallow."

Still, Spratt, Pelosi and other lawmakers did not rule out supporting the request. "We clearly want to make sure our troops have everything they need," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

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