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Lawmakers expect to pass Bush's funding request, but want details

WASHINGTON—Hit by sticker shock, lawmakers in Congress said Monday that eventually they will approve President Bush's request for $87 billion more for Iraq and the war on terror, but they want to know more about how the money will be spent and efforts to share the financial burden.

"We'll have to work on it as quickly as possible. I think it's a bill that we have to pay," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, cited the need to protect "troops in harm's way" and pledged to "aggressively expedite" the budget request.

Even Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the Senate minority leader, sounded a conciliatory note and said he would work with the administration. "The stakes for our troops and our national security are too great for us to fail," Daschle said. "The president and Congress must now work together to provide the resources needed to both prevail in these troubled areas and to meet pressing needs at home."

But Democratic candidates for president blasted Bush's spending request as the result of failed policies and miscalculations. Several charged that the administration had deliberately underestimated the costs of Iraqi occupation and reconstruction before launching the war.

"A 15-minute speech does not make up for 15 months of misleading the American people on why we should go to war against Iraq or 15 weeks of mismanaging the reconstruction effort since we have been there," said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, widely regarded as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said the latest request was more than what the federal government will spend on education this year, and twice as much as federal spending on highways, bridges and public transit systems.

"The president is clearly making a judgment that it is more important for us to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to deal with the very serious problems we have in the United States," Graham said.

Federal spending on education will total $59.4 billion this year, fiscal 2003. The Homeland Security budget is $28.1 billion. Federal aid to highways totals $28.6 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency's budget is $7.96 billion.

Most of Bush's new spending request for the coming year —$51 billion—would support military operations in Iraq, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced Monday. An additional $15 billion would go to military operations in Afghanistan.

The remaining $21 billion would be spent on reconstruction of those nations' broken infrastructure—schools, roads, utilities, hospitals.

Reconstruction costs ultimately will total up to $75 billion, the budget office estimated, and the administration hopes that Iraqi oil revenues and donations from other nations will help cover the final bill. An initial $5 billion would go to what the administration calls an urgent need—training Iraqi army, police and security forces.

White House budget officials estimated the spending request would add $50 billion to $60 billion to a federal budget deficit the administration previously had said would hit a record $475 billion next year.

President Bush did not mention Iraq publicly during a trip to Tennessee Monday; he spoke about education.

Some Democrats seized on statements made earlier in the year when Congress approved $80 billion to cover war costs for six months. At the time, some administration officials predicted that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for much of reconstruction, and that U.S. forces could begin withdrawing after six months.

"I haven't seen such a spectacular or breathtaking set of miscalculations since LBJ (President Lyndon Johnson) was bringing us into Vietnam deeper and deeper," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, a 36-year veteran of the House and ranking Democrat on Appropriations.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, another candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and one who voted to authorize the war, said Bush failed to tell the country how he plans to secure Iraq.

"The president offered glowing rhetoric but few specifics on how we will erase the mismanagement of this administration in Iraq," Kerry said. `"How do we get others involved to take the target off the back of American soldiers? How will we assure our soldiers they won't be overextended? How do we end the sense of occupation in Iraq? Other than telling the country that this will be expensive, the president did very little to demonstrate he has a true plan."

Fiscal conservatives and budget hawks, wary of adding to the already huge budget deficit, emphasized finding ways to increase funding from international sources.

"I think we need to get commitments of more support from other nations, and the U.N. in particular, before we approve any increase in funding for these operations," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, sharply criticized the president.

His latest spending request "could hardly come at a worse time," Spratt said. "A basic question has not been answered: How long will this deployment last? Will more funds be needed for troop deployments in 2005 and 2006? In truth, billions more are likely to be needed before the job is done.

"The American people now begin to see the consequences of a go-it-alone strategy in which American troops take all the risks and American taxpayers pay all the bills," said Spratt, who also sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., plans to offer an amendment that would grant Bush his spending request only if he first sends Congress a report detailing the total costs and the number of additional troops the Iraqi operation will need, as well as a timetable for reconstruction and withdrawal.

"The purpose of this amendment is to hold the president accountable for a failed policy, not to cut off funding," Kennedy said. "The president owes our troops and their families a plan before we give the administration a blank check."

Bush's spending request was an acknowledgment that Iraqi occupation and rebuilding efforts have proved to be much costlier and more dangerous than administration officials predicted. Deep in the spending details are items reflecting that 149 Americans have died since major military operations ended May 1, and that some U.S. units will stay in Iraq longer than originally planned.

For example, the administration is seeking $300 million for body armor for troops and $140 million for heavily armored Humvees. The budget request also would cover costs of giving troops two weeks off for a break in their tour of duty.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Steven Thomma and Ron Hutcheson contributed to this report.)


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

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030908 USIRAQ spending