By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.
The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year.
The request is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress they have made, a congressional aide said.
Most of the additional funding in a revised supplemental bill would pay for the current counteroffensive in Iraq, which has expanded the U.S. force there by about 28,000 troops, to about 160,000. The cost of the buildup was not included in the proposed 2008 budget because Pentagon officials said they did not know how long the troop increase would last. The decision to seek about $50 billion more appears to reflect the view in the administration that the counteroffensive will last into the spring of 2008 and will not be shortened by Congress.
Some consideration is being given to trimming the new request by a few billion dollars, the White House official said. But, he added, "this is pretty close to a done deal." Almost all the spending is relatively noncontroversial, he added, with the vast majority of it necessary just to keep the U.S. military operating in Iraq. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters, said that the supplemental requests are likely to be "rolled together" and considered as one package.
The revised supplemental would total about $200 billion, indicating that the cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week. The bill also covers the far smaller costs of the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said recently that the cost of the Iraq war has surpassed $330 billion, while the war in Afghanistan has cost $78 billion.
"We have said previously that after General Petraeus reports, we will be evaluating what adjustments may need to be made to our pending [fiscal 2008] supplemental request, which was sent up in February with the rest of the budget," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said last night. "I'm going to decline to speculate on this, as General Petraeus has not testified. Nor have any decisions been made at this stage about whether, when or what specific changes could be made."
A House Appropriations Committee aide said that an additional White House spending request has been anticipated but that it was expected to be far smaller, perhaps about $30 billion. "We haven't seen the details, but we'll give it the scrutiny it deserves," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "It's long past time for giving blank checks to the administration."
Despite widespread media anticipation of next month's Iraq hearings, Pentagon insiders say they do not expect them to result in any major changes in military strategy. The sessions are expected to occur the week of Sept. 10, with Petraeus and Crocker appearing before a total of four committees in the House and Senate.
"I don't see any surprises" coming out of the hearings, said an officer on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said he expects Petraeus and Crocker to focus on tactical security gains in and around Baghdad in recent months and on shifts in tribal allegiances in favor of U.S. forces, and to argue that those improvements may open a window for greater political reconciliation in Iraq over the next six or seven months.
In any event, this officer said, he expects the current counteroffensive to be maintained into next April. "The surge was designed to last for a year," he said. "I don't think they'll change that."
In a speech yesterday to the convention of the American Legion in Reno, Nev., Bush gave an optimistic assessment of recent events in the war, now in its fifth year. "There are unmistakable signs that our strategy is achieving the objectives we set out," he said. "The momentum is now on our side."
Staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.