Bush to ask Congress for $75 billion for war

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WASHINGTON - President Bush plans to formally ask Congress today for $75 billion in additional money to pay for the war in Iraq for the next six months, as well as for the first stages of reconstruction after the war and for enhanced security at home.

At a White House meeting yesterday, Bush asked senior lawmakers to quickly pass the measure, which includes $63 billion for military operations in Iraq, without adding any money for their own priorities.

The measure also contains $8 billion for international operations, including aid to U.S. partners for war-related costs, and about $3.5 billion for homeland security, a senior administration official said.

War and aftermath

It would cover the war, a period of stabilization in Iraq after the war and a "phased withdrawal" of some troops during the next six months, the official said.

Bush's request for more money for the war has been eagerly awaited on Capitol Hill, where it is likely to intensify the debate over whether the country - already facing deficits this year in excess of $300 billion - can afford the president's new tax-cut plan.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said that Congress is likely to add to or modify the president's request for more money for the war.

"I think it may change a little," Stevens said yesterday. "We've got some suggestions."

One such proposal is likely to be an aid package for the airline industry.

Many lawmakers, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, had urged the administration to include such relief in the supplemental spending bill.

But Bush warned congressional leaders against piling more items onto the war funding bill.

"The entire supplemental is intended to be devoted to purposes stemming from this event - from the war," the senior administration official said. Bush is "very hopeful that Congress would not seize on this in an opportunistic way to fund unrelated things."

Wartime emergency spending measures tend to zoom through Congress with remarkable speed, pushed along by the political imperative of supporting the troops and the practical necessity of moving resources to the battlefield.

"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," Hastert said.

Passage in a blink

"This is going to go through Congress really quickly," said Keith Ashdown, vice president for policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a fiscal watchdog group. "If you blink, it will be approved."

But the first signs of partisan disagreement emerged yesterday, when congressional Democrats leveled a charge they have often made against Bush: that he is shortchanging homeland security needs.

Under Bush's supplemental proposal, the $3.5 billion for homeland security would pay for federal needs as well as aid states and localities, which would receive $2 billion in grants.

Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, has estimated that there are $10 billion to $15 billion worth of immediate domestic anti-terrorism needs that are not being funded.

"On the surface of it, we're concerned with the homeland security number - that it might not be adequate," said David J. Sirota, a spokesman for Obey. "We're hopeful that we can work in a bipartisan way to address that."

The supplemental spending request comes to Congress after weeks of grousing by Democrats and some Republicans that the Bush administration was withholding information from lawmakers about the projected costs of the war in Iraq.

$2.2 trillion budgets

The criticism became particularly intense last week, when both the House and Senate were considering $2.2 trillion budgets for next year that include no money for the war in Iraq or its aftermath.

The House passed its version Friday; the Senate is set to follow suit tomorrow.

Democratic leaders complain that the Bush administration has deliberately held back its supplemental spending request to avoid undercutting the case for a large new round of tax cuts, costing $726 billion.

The Senate voted last week to shave $100 billion from Bush's tax-cut package to pay for operations in Iraq. The Senate also added $3.5 billion for police, fire and emergency personnel who would be the first to respond to domestic terrorist attacks.

The supplemental spending request proposes devoting $53 billion to "pure operational activities." This includes transporting troops to and from Iraq, sustaining them while there and replenishing munitions to their levels before the conflict began, the senior administration official said.

An additional $10 billion would pay for "miscellaneous costs," including $500 million for oil field repair, and classified costs.

Aid to partners

The proposal also calls for providing $5 billion in aid to partners in the region - including Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Egypt - and to allies in Eastern Europe. It would establish a $2.5 billion fund for relief and reconstruction in Iraq.

The administration has said it expects other nations to contribute to post-war rebuilding, as they did after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. But the supplemental bill does not assume such participation, the senior administration official said.

"There's a full intention to try to involve others, to the extent they're willing and able," the official said. "But we need to try to secure this so we can move forward aggressively, whether or not we have any new information about" help from other nations.

Senior lawmakers are urging the Bush administration to step up diplomatic efforts in the interest of keeping the costs of the war down, and debate on the spending measure will likely intensify that effort.

"This will really push a lot of lawmakers to start talking about what is our plan to get other countries started paying part of this bill," Ashdown said.

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