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White House requests $75 billion for war-related costs

WASHINGTON—President Bush asked Congress Monday for nearly $75 billion to pay for the war in Iraq and also to cover additional foreign aid and homeland security costs.

The biggest portion—$63 billion—would go to the Department of Defense to pay for the buildup of forces in the Persian Gulf, 30 days of combat in Iraq and assorted other expenses related to the war on terrorism. Another $8 billion would go to foreign aid for governments in the Middle East and $4 billion for homeland security.

It was the first time the White House put a price tag on the war. The Pentagon had wanted more, but trimmed the number at the request of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, according to congressional aides familiar with the negotiations.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney revealed the administration's request in a meeting late Monday with congressional leaders. The president asked that Congress complete its work on the bill by April 13, a deadline that will place great pressure on lawmakers to act quickly.

"We need to make certain that our men and women in uniform have the resources necessary to get the job done in Iraq, and I expect that both Republicans and Democrats will support this legislation by overwhelming margins," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said after the meeting.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War waged by Bush's father cost about $60 billion—or about $80 billion in today's dollars, after adjusting for inflation. Allies reimbursed the United States for about $53 billion of those costs with cash or contributions such as fuel, food and water.

Whether the United States will be able to recoup the costs of this war is an open question. Many U.S. allies, such as France and Germany, opposed Bush's decision to use military force in Iraq. And the United States may need allied help to finance the reconstruction of Iraq after the war is over.

"I've not heard anyone suggest that the U.S. was going to get any meaningful assistance for these costs," said Steve Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent think tank that studies defense spending. "The hope is that friends and allies will help with the occupation after the war."

The additional $75 billion would increase this year's record deficit—already projected to reach $304 billion by the administration—providing more ammunition to Democrats seeking to reduce President Bush's request for $1.6 trillion in tax cuts over the next 11 years.

"The money is all going to be borrowed," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Monday, regarding the administration's war-funding request. "There is widespread agreement that fighting the war in the Gulf and fighting it here at home requires that we take action now and find a way to reduce that debt later."

Bush's request also should prompt a new round of vigorous congressional debate, particularly on homeland security spending. Democrats already have drafted proposals that would give $5 billion to $10 billion to fire and police departments and other emergency responders.

The $63 billion Pentagon portion of Bush's request includes extra costs for operations and maintenance, the cost of calling up reserves and National Guard troops, and "imminent danger" pay for soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes $1.4 billion in assistance to countries such as Jordan and Pakistan who have helped the United States combat al Qaida terrorists.

Democratic lawmakers who have seen the request said it gives Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld too much leeway to spend the money without congressional oversight.

"There's a whole range of long-term authorities which will transfer a large amount of power to executive agencies and I don't think that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

"They could spend it on anything," said one senior congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They could invade Korea with that money. Continue on to Iran."

Within the homeland-security funding request, $2 billion to state and local costs and another $2 billion would go to federal activities, including $500 million for Justice Department expenses. Within the federal portion, the White House seeks a $250 million fund to use at its discretion.


(Diego Ibarguen and Ron Hutcheson contributed to this article.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.