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Congress anticipates skyrocketing costs for wars

WASHINGTON—For years, Democratic lawmakers have demanded that President Bush provide more precise, more detailed and earlier funding requests for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They're about to get it in spades.

On Monday, when Bush delivers his fiscal-year 2008 budget to lawmakers, the Democrats—now in charge of Congress—expect an avalanche of data that will project the wars' mounting costs almost 20 months into the future.

"I think we're going to see on Monday a lot more information than we have been provided over the last three years," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C.

Based on their talks with Pentagon and other Bush administration officials, Spratt and his aides expect to get a Defense Department supplemental-funding measure seeking $93.4 billion in emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through Sept. 30.

That request comes on top of $70 billion that Congress already has appropriated, and it would bring the 2007 fiscal-year cost of the wars to $163.4 billion—$130.72 billion of that for Iraq.

For fiscal 2008, which starts Oct. 1, Spratt anticipates a separate war-costs request of $141.7 billion, with 80 percent of it—about $113.4 billion—for Iraq.

White House budget aides cited slightly higher figures, with some of the additional money paying for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and diplomacy tied to the battle zones.

Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat and the Senate Budget Committee chairman, welcomed news that the 2008 fiscal year war-funding bill will be at least $140 billion.

"We've repeatedly seen that they have dramatically underestimated war costs," Conrad said. "At least they're moving in the right direction finally by making, for one year, what appear to be realistic" projections.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Congress has appropriated $379 billion for the conflict. If Congress funds the war at the levels that Bush seeks through September 2008, its price tag will reach $537 billion, almost exactly what the country spent on the Vietnam War in 2007 dollars.

It took more than a decade for the Vietnam conflict to reach that total; the Iraq war will have reached it in 5 { years at the projected spending rate. And that doesn't include another supplemental-funding request that lawmakers expect to get from Bush later this year to help cover more costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's unclear whether the 2007 supplemental that's headed to Congress will include money for the 21,500 additional troops whom Bush has dispatched to Iraq.

Pentagon officials already are sparring with lawmakers over the cost of the troop surge.

The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that the troop increase could cost as much as $10 billion this year, and up to $29 billion if the additional forces stay in Iraq through next year.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates disputed the CBO projections Friday, saying that fewer support troops will be needed to back up the brigades that are being sent to Baghdad and Anbar province.

The mounting costs for what Bush and his aides had predicted would be a short-term military venture are driving the Pentagon's budget, adjusted for inflation, to heights not seen in six decades.

The Pentagon's fiscal 2008 budget, including the war costs, is expected to reach $623.1 billion, a total last reached in 1947, when the United States was helping Europe recover from the devastation of World War II.

As recently as 1997, while the country enjoyed what would turn out to be a short-lived post-Cold War peace, the Pentagon's budget fell to $319.5 billion.


(McClatchy Newspapers correspondents Kevin G. Hall and Drew Brown contributed to this article.)


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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