The Bush administration intends to seek about $70 billion in emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan early next year, pushing total war costs close to $225 billion since the invasion of Iraq early last year, Pentagon and congressional officials said yesterday.
White House budget office spokesman Chad Kolton emphasized that final decisions on the supplemental spending request will not be made until shortly before the request is sent to Congress. That may not happen until early February, when President Bush submits his budget for fiscal 2006, assuming he wins reelection.
But Pentagon and House Appropriations Committee aides said the Defense Department and military services are scrambling to get their final requests to the White House Office of Management and Budget by mid-November, shortly after the election. The new numbers underscore that the war is going to be far more costly and intense, and last longer, than the administration first suggested.
The Army is expected to request at least an additional $30 billion for combat activity in Iraq, with $6 billion more needed to begin refurbishing equipment that has been worn down or destroyed by unexpectedly intense combat, another Appropriations Committee aide said. The deferral of needed repairs over the past year has added to maintenance costs, which can no longer be delayed, a senior Pentagon official said.
The Army is expected to ask for as much as $10 billion more for its conversion to a swifter expeditionary force. The Marines will come in with a separate request, as will the Defense Logistics Agency and other components of the Department of Defense. The State Department will need considerably more money to finance construction and operations at the sprawling embassy complex in Baghdad. The Central Intelligence Agency's request would come on top of those.
"I don't have a number, and [administration officials] have not been forthcoming, but we expect it will be pretty large," said James Dyer, Republican chief of staff of the Appropriations Committee.
Bush has said for months that he would make an additional request for the war next year, but the new estimates are the first glimpse of its magnitude. A $70 billion request would be considerably larger than lawmakers had anticipated earlier this year. After the president unexpectedly submitted an $87 billion request for the Iraq and Afghanistan efforts last year, many Republicans angrily expressed sticker shock and implored the administration not to surprise them again.
This request would come on top of $25 billion in war spending allocated by Congress for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The two bills combined suggest the cost of combat is escalating from the $65 billion spent by the military in 2004 and the $62.4 billion allocated in 2003, as U.S. troops face insurgencies that have proven far more lethal than expected at this point.
"We're still evaluating what our commitments will be, and we will submit a request that fully supports those commitments," Kolton said.
The senior Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said final figures may be shaped by the outcome of the presidential election and events in Iraq. But assuming force levels will remain constant in Iraq at about 130,000 troops, the final bill will be "roughly" $70 billion for the military alone, he said.
In making cost estimates for the supplemental budget request, Pentagon officials have distanced themselves from the Bush administration's public optimism about trends in Iraq. Instead, they make the fairly pessimistic assumption that about as many troops will be needed there next year as are currently on the ground.
The latest request comes on top of three earlier emergency spending bills approved by Congress in support of the war. In August, Congress approved $25 billion for the war as a bridge to the larger request the president promised for early 2005. Last October, lawmakers passed an $87.5 billion emergency spending measure that included $65 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. An additional $18.6 billion of that money went to Iraqi reconstruction.
Congress approved the first war spending measure in April 2003, a $78.5 billion measure that included $62.4 billion for combat and $7.5 billion for foreign assistance.
The White House has been careful to keep the war spending numbers "close to the vest," Dyer said. But Pentagon officials have been working on the request for two to three months, even as they put together their far larger budget request for fiscal 2006, the Pentagon official said.
The Iraq war has proven so costly because of the unexpectedly intense opposition from insurgents. That has led the Pentagon to keep far more troops in Iraq than it planned.
At the end of the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, Pentagon officials expected to be able to radically trim the occupation force by the end of that year to perhaps 50,000 troops or less. Instead, they maintained a force of about 130,000 personnel there and have supplemented that force with about 20,000 civilian contractors.
On top of paying the wages of the all-volunteer force and the contractors, the military has paid for building dozens of bases and keeping a high-tech force equipped with computers, communications gear and expensive modern weaponry.
Yale University economist William D. Nordhaus estimated that in inflation-adjusted terms, World War I cost just under $200 billion for the United States. The Vietnam War cost about $500 billion from 1964 to 1972, Nordhaus said. The cost of the Iraq war could reach nearly half that number by next fall, 21/2 years after it began.
A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment. "We are going to let OMB talk for the administration on this issue," Marine Lt. Col. Rose-Ann Lynch said.