WASHINGTON March 25 —
President Bush, saying U.S. troops are making steady progress in
Iraq, is asking Congress for $74.7 billion to pay for six months of
combat, humanitarian aid and rebuilding.
The bulk of the request, $53.4 billion, is for what the White
House calls "pure operational activities" moving troops and weapons,
the costs of combat, and bringing the soldiers home, according to a
Bush administration document obtained by The Associated Press.
Bush refused to provide a cost estimate before the attack on Iraq
started, asserting there were too many variables to give a reliable
price tag. On Monday, five days into the military campaign, the
administration tipped its hand, outlining for congressional budget
chiefs his spending plans in the form of a "supplemental"
Bush was formally unveiling the new spending package Tuesday at
the Pentagon, and asking Congress to pass it by April 11. He planned
to praise U.S. forces for what the White House on Tuesday called
steady progress in Iraq.
Lawmakers grumbled after a Monday meeting with Bush that they
were frozen out of their oversight role on spending, and predicted
Bush would soon return asking for more war money.
"This is just the beginning. This is the first down payment, and
the American people have the right to know that," said Sen. Robert
C. Byrd, D-W.Va.
"I told the president that I was glad to be invited down today to
discuss the supplemental bill, but I said that Congress ought to be
in at the start of the process and not just brought in at the end to
sign the check," Byrd said.
A senior administration official said the White House kept its
estimates close to the vest because it could only have provided
projections that varied widely depending on different scenarios,
such as Saddam Hussein's surrender versus full-scale war.
The White House concluded that sharing projections privately with
lawmakers would have led to leaks, said this official, who
sidestepped a question about why the administration did not want the
public to know the war cost estimates.
A supplemental appropriations bill, in effect, is Congress' way
of writing a check to cover special emergency or unanticipated
expenses not provided for through the regular appropriations
Bush tacked aid to various other countries onto the budget
request most of them regional neighbors like Jordan and Israel.
Turkey was once promised $15 billion to let in U.S. troops for a
ground war. Turkey refused, and Bush responded by slashing the aid
to $1 billion.
Far-flung nations including the Philippines, Colombia and
Afghanistan are among the other aid beneficiaries in the budget
measure all tucked under the heading "Global War on Terrorism" on an
administration summary sheet. In all, Bush budgets $7.8 billion for
humanitarian relief, reconstruction and foreign aid.
Homeland security would get $4.2 billion and coalition allies get
$1.4 billion. The staunchest of Bush's partners, British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, was meeting Wednesday and Thursday with Bush at
Democrats said they were alarmed at Bush's plan to give broad
discretion to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on details of how
Pentagon funds will be spent. Bush made a similar request last year,
which members of both parties forced him to change and to provide
details on how the money would be used.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House
Appropriations Committee, said Rumsfeld "wasn't appointed to be the
U.S. Congress with the power of the purse. ... We're supposed to
know what we're doing before we open the purse strings."
The administration hopes for substantial contributions from other
countries for reconstruction, but not in the immediate future.
In their meeting Monday afternoon, Bush asked lawmakers not to
overspend or load up his budget request up with other items. In
military parlance, the measure is known as C.O.W.S. Cost of the War
Supplement, a senior official noted, adding that the White House
hopes it will not be "milked irresponsibly."
The White House projects that the package would swell the federal
budget deficit to close to $400 billion for the fiscal year that
ends in September.
|President Bush meets with some
of his top economic advisers to discuss the U.S. economy in
the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, March 24, 2003 in
Washington. Bush is confronting the costs of the Iraq war in
lives and dollars, grieving for lost civilians and soldiers
while telling lawmakers it will cost at least $70 billion to
fight Baghdad. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez
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