Bush Asks Congress For $46 Billion More In War Funding

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

President Bush challenged Congress to another clash over the direction of the Iraq war yesterday as he asked lawmakers for $46 billion more to pay for overseas military operations and insisted that they approve it by the end of the year.

The president's war funding plan revived the political struggle over Iraq that has grown somewhat dormant in Washington over the past month. Democrats vowed not to rubber-stamp the request and indicated that they will disregard Bush's holiday deadline, holding off any action until next year as they debate a new strategy to counter his leadership on the war.

The latest spending proposal brings the total current fiscal year request for Iraq, Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations to $196.4 billion, by far the largest annual tally since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. If approved by Congress in its entirety, it would bring the total appropriated since then to more than $800 billion. At their current rate, war appropriations could reach $1 trillion by the time Bush leaves office, a total that by some measures would exceed the cost of the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

The Democrats who won control of Congress last year on the back of public opposition to the Iraq war instantly denounced Bush's spending plan and ridiculed him for seeking so much for the conflicts after vetoing the expansion of a children's health insurance program just weeks earlier. But Bush's proposal will force Democrats to confront the politically volatile choice of again following his lead or refusing to provide everything he wants.

What's more, the debate may play out just as the presidential nominating campaigns reach their climax. Although Bush wants the spending approved within two months, Democrats said the military does not need the money until early February, and they do not anticipate acting until early next year. Presidential voting begins with Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the nominations could be sealed when voters in about 22 states cast ballots Feb. 5.

The rhetoric from both sides yesterday evoked the fiery debate over the last war funding bill this spring, with the president suggesting that critics do not support the troops and Democrats accusing him of fiscal recklessness on behalf of a losing cause.

"Our men and women on the front lines should not be caught in the middle of partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C.," Bush said at the White House, flanked by veterans and the family of a slain Marine. "I often hear that war critics oppose my decisions, but still support the troops. Well, I'll take them at their word -- and this is the chance to show it."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) derided the war funding bill as an example of "misplaced priorities," pointing to Bush's veto of a five-year, $35 billion expansion of a children's health program. "For the cost of less than 40 days in Iraq, we could provide health-care coverage to 10 million children for an entire year," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) echoed that line of attack on Bush. "He repeatedly says no to health care, no to law enforcement, no to homeland security, no to stronger infrastructure," Reid said at a news conference. "But he says yes to this intractable civil war in Iraq, which is being paid for by borrowed money."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto rejected the comparison with the State Children's Health Insurance Program, saying Bush wants only to make sure it focuses on poorer children and the vetoed bill would have covered families with too much income. "The president has said that the policy is wrong," Fratto said. "He didn't say that it's too expensive."

The spending fight will test Democrats, who so far have been frustrated in their efforts to force Bush to change direction in Iraq. The most powerful means in the hands of Congress is the power of the purse, but so far Democrats have been unwilling to refuse the president any money for the war. When they attached a U.S. troop withdrawal timetable to the war funding bill in the spring, Bush vetoed it and Congress ended up sending him the money without major conditions.

Since that strategy failed, antiwar leaders have pressed Democratic leaders to refuse to give Bush the money he needs to wage war, or at least cut it. In the end, though, that may depend on congressional Republicans. A senior Democratic leadership aide predicted that even Bush's party would not support the full $196.4 billon. "You're not gonna find very many Republicans willing to go to the mat over this," the aide said by e-mail. "In the end, the president is not going to get everything that he wants."

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