$6 Billion War Request Called Down Payment
By Guy Gugliotta and John F. Harris
The $6 billion that the Clinton administration has requested to fund the war in Yugoslavia through September will only be a down payment on the long-range cost of coming to the rescue of Kosovo Albanians, according to lawmakers, military experts and administration officials.
The air war is costing somewhere between $718 million and $1.1 billion per month, according to various estimates, but congressional analysts say the expense could increase significantly if the Army sends even a single armored infantry division to the region.
Furthermore, lawmakers and administration officials now anticipate an extended – and expensive – U.S. presence, especially if Serb forces under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic choose to prolong the war, and force the NATO alliance to cope with the humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
"They [the White House] are probably going to be back before July with another request," said Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), who chairs a subcommittee in charge of refugee affairs. "The humanitarian portion [of the current request] is going to be grossly inadequate to handle the long-term need, and there is going to be a long-term need."
The White House has made a calculated decision to try to keep public attention away, for now, from the almost inevitable long-term costs of the Kosovo project. If the air campaign succeeds in driving Serbs to the peace table, Clinton has pledged a U.S. contribution of ground troops as part of an international peacekeeping force. If air power does not work, and ultimately a ground invasion is required, this too will involve significant long-term costs.
Based on U.S. experience in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo, defense analysts say a rough guidepost is that every 100,000 U.S. troops deployed require at least $10 billion in supplemental funding. The U.S. contribution to a peacekeeping force is envisioned as much smaller than this, about 3,000 troops. But a ground invasion could require as many as 200,000 NATO troops, of which half could plausibly be Americans.
Even at higher funding levels, however, it will take a prolonged military deployment to make a significant dent in this year's $112 billion budget surplus. But Kosovo already is changing the contours of this year's budget debate. House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) suggested yesterday that the war could cause Republicans to readjust their thinking on their proposal to enact an $800 billion tax cut over the next 10 years.
And Republicans probably will not be able to sustain their proposal to dedicate all the money brought in by Social Security taxes to the retirement program. If Social Security funds are kept separate from other spending, there actually is no budget surplus for 1999, but an estimated $42 billion deficit, according to administration projections (or $16 billion according to congressional estimates).
"The realistic costs of this operation are fairly modest compared to the overall budget surplus," said Robert Reischauer, a Brookings Institution budget expert. "For the non-Social Security portion of the budget, they're all-consuming."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said the war "again raises the question from the beginning of the Vietnam War of guns versus butter. We can't have everything, and I have an obligation to make sure that becomes part of the debate."
Still, noted Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, "if we had allowed the accountants to determine whether we could afford to fight World War II . . . Nazi flags would be flying in Belgrade." He urged colleagues to "determine how much it costs, and fund it as rapidly as possible."
The White House's emergency request calls for funding through Sept. 30 at a rate of $718 million per month, a figure comprising operational costs, munitions and an $850 million reserve fund.
Meanwhile, an estimate prepared by the Congressional Budget Office for Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) projected the cost per month of the air war at $974 million to $990 million.
A congressional source familiar with the CBO projection said researchers were forced to make several arbitrary judgments: they assumed that U.S. airmen would make about 2,000 sorties per day, a rate expected to rise dramatically as additional aircraft are brought into the theater.
The CBO estimated that the introduction of ground troops would raise the costs of the war by $200 million per month simply to keep a single 18,000-member armored division and its 9,000-member support force in the region. Combat would cost an additional $100 million per month, CBO said.
The White House has made no estimate of ground war costs, but asked for about $1 billion in humanitarian assistance through Sept. 30, dramatically higher than the $200 million to $250 million projected by the CBO for roughly the same period.
Besides Kosovo funding, GOP lawmakers have made clear their intention to enlarge the bill in order to bolster future defense needs. But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he wanted to hold the request in "the single-digit" billions.
"There's a limit to how much you can sensibly spend in a period of time," Lott said. "You run the risk, if you make it too big, it collapses in a puddle."
Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.
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