Bush request would push war total to $440 billion

WASHINGTON, 3 Feb. 2006. The Bush administration said Thursday it will ask Congress for $120 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $18 billion more for hurricane relief this year.

The White House acknowledges the upcoming requests would cause total spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, to soar well past the $400 billion mark, while spending for hurricane relief would top $100 billion.

Details of the requests are not final, but the 2007 budget proposal that President Bush is to submit next week will reflect the totals for planning purposes. The president also will ask Congress to devote another $2.3 billion to prepare for a bird flu epidemic, congressional aides said.

About $70 billion of the new war money will be requested for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, bringing total spending on the two campaigns to $120 billion for the current budget year. The other $50 billion in new war money will be set aside in the 2007 budget for the first few months of the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. More money will likely be needed in 2007.

The bulk of the funding will go toward military operations, officials said, but the money will also replace damaged, destroyed or worn out equipment. Another part of the request would provide aid to train Iraqi security forces and otherwise combat the insurgency in Iraq.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that $320 billion has been spent on Iraq and Afghanistan since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, including $50 billion that Congress sent Bush in December.

Administration officials said the new figures were estimates and the totals could change slightly before they are officially presented to Congress.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the requests reflect the president's desire to "commit the resources that are necessary to fight and win the war on terrorism."

The requested money would cover troop salaries and benefits, repairing and replacing equipment, supporting U.S. embassies in the two countries and taking on the insurgency. It would cover the costs of continuing to train Iraqi and Afghan security forces and to protect U.S. troops.

Joel Kaplan, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the $50 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan for 2007 is a placeholder. He suggested the combined costs of the two campaigns could be different. "We're still in the process of working out the details," he said.

According to senior Pentagon officials and documents obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, next week Bush will request a $439.3 billion Defense Department budget for 2007, a nearly five percent increase over this year. That request does not include the $50 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meantime, Donald Powell, the coordinator for rebuilding the Gulf Coast, confirmed that the administration would request $18 billion for that effort.

The money would push the total federal commitment for rebuilding the hurricane ravaged coast to more than $100 billion, according to administration tallies. That reflects about $68 billion in emergency appropriations, $18.5 billion in available flood insurance funds and the latest $18 billion figure.

The upcoming request is likely to create tensions between Gulf Coast lawmakers pressing to add to it and conservatives insisting that is be at least partially paid for with spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Powell said it probably would be the last such spending request for the current budget year and that next year's budget would not contain Katrina relief funds. He said a detailed request would go to Congress within 30 days.

Powell said he does not anticipate additional money for the region in the 2007 budget Bush plans to announce Monday. He provided little detail about specifically what the money would be used for, saying it would include money for housing, roads and levees. "That's a lot of money," Powell said, referring to the $100 billion.

Gulf Coast lawmakers, as they did in December, are likely to try to add on to the request and push for more aid for flood control and housing.

"We certainly welcome additional federal assistance," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "But I am highly concerned that the administration's proposal, which lacks details, will put more money into dysfunctional federal bureaucracies like FEMA and won't adequately address urgent needs such as housing, levees and flood protection."

In December, Congress dedicated $29 billion of previously appropriated funds for such purposes as levee repair and construction, emergency funds to compensate homeowners whose hurricane insurance does not cover flood losses, and child care, mental health and other social services.

At that time, Congress exceeded Bush's request by $10.4 billion, mostly by approving $11.5 billion in flexible Community Development Block Grants.

The latest request is also likely to include funding for federal facilities such as military bases and veterans hospitals damaged by the September storm. Congress failed to fully fund several comparable requests last year.

Source: Associated Press

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