washington -- After smothering efforts by war critics in Congress to drastically cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq, President Bush plans to ask lawmakers next week to approve another massive spending measure -- totaling nearly $200 billion -- to fund the war through next year, Pentagon officials said.
If Bush’s spending request is approved, 2008 will be the most expensive year of the Iraq war.
U.S. war costs have continued to grow because of the additional combat forces sent to Iraq this year and because of efforts to quickly ramp up production of new technology, such as mine-resistant trucks designed to protect troops from roadside bombs. The new trucks can cost three to six times as much as an armored Humvee.
The Bush administration said earlier this year that it probably would need $147.5 billion for 2008, but Pentagon officials now say that and $47 billion more will be required. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and other officials are to formally present the full request at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday.
The funding request means that war costs are projected to grow even as the number of deployed combat troops begins a gradual decline starting in December. Spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is to rise from $173 billion this year to about $195 billion in fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.
When costs of CIA operations and embassy expenses are added, the war in Iraq currently costs taxpayers about $12 billion a month, said Winslow T. Wheeler, a former Republican congressional budget aide who is a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.
“Everybody predicts declines, but they haven’t occurred, and 2008 will be higher than 2007,” Wheeler said. “It all depends on what happens in Iraq, but thus far it has continued to get bloodier and more expensive. Everyone says we are going to turn the corner here, but the corner has not been turned.”
In 2004, the two conflicts together cost $94 billion; in 2005, they cost $108 billion; in 2006, $122 billion.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are financed through a single administration request to Congress, and their costs are combined in the legislation.
The new spending request is likely to push the cumulative cost of the war in Iraq alone through 2008 past the $600-billion mark -- more than the Korean War and nearly as much as the Vietnam War, based on estimates by government budget officials.
After the defeat this week of Democratic proposals to force faster troop withdrawals from Iraq, the new funding request presents a potential target for war critics on Capitol Hill.
“Now that we have a Democratic Congress and the war is less popular and we are not talking about $100 billion a year but $200 billion a year -- some of which is not directly war-related -- the question is whether the Congress will slim it down,” said Steven M. Kosiak, vice president of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Despite setbacks, the staunchest war opponents on Capitol Hill are pushing for new limits.
This week, Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) unsuccessfully proposed cutting funding by next summer for most military operations in Iraq. In the House, antiwar lawmakers have gathered 80 signatures on a letter they plan to send to Bush expressing their opposition to “appropriating any additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq other than a time-bound, safe redeployment.”
But Republicans continue to oppose such funding limitations. And it is unlikely that any funding cut could win a majority in either chamber. Feingold’s proposal garnered only 28 votes Thursday, as 20 Democrats joined 49 Republicans and one independent to quash it.
“The additional funding is so closely tied to the safety of U.S. troops, the Democrats are unwilling to challenge it, even though it is a potential point of leverage for forcing a drawdown,” said Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank.
The Bush administration’s initial estimate of 2008 costs, released in February, did not include money for the troop buildup.
The military needs additional money to continue the deployment of those forces, which are due to withdraw between December and July.
Still, military budget analysts said that just a fraction of $47 billion would go to support the additional forces. The bulk of the money would be spent on better armor, weapons systems and fixing the materiel ground down by the punishing environment of Iraq.
Kosiak estimates about $15 billion of the new request would be used to cover the additional troops.
“They don’t want to just replace what was worn out and destroyed, they want to get better stuff, and get more stuff in some cases,” he said.
New armored trucks
Military leaders hope that new armored vehicles like “mine resistant ambush protected” vehicles can better protect forces in Iraq. Production of MRAPs, which have a V-shaped hull to deflect bomb blasts, is being dramatically ramped up, and the military is seeking to speed their delivery to Iraq, where improvised explosives remain the gravest threat to troops.
Defense contractors produced 82 MRAPs in June. The Pentagon has set a production target of 1,300 a month by December.
MRAPs were once primarily seen as a vehicle suited for clearing bombs from roads, but the Army is gradually coming to the conclusion that it needs to replace most of its Humvees with the better-armored vehicles, said Thompson, who also has consulted for defense contractors.
“This was a modest program that has grown into the biggest armored-vehicle program in a generation,” he said.
Demands for better armor, coupled with the ease with which insurgents can make roadside bombs, suggest that even as troops gradually draw down, war costs could remain high.
A study released this week by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a long-term presence of 55,000 troops in Iraq would cost $25 billion to $30 billion a year if those troops were regularly involved in combat operations.
But it may be some time before the U.S. force reaches such a small size, and budgets in the years to come are likely to be far larger than those estimates.
Pentagon analysts are working on 2009 budget estimates, to be unveiled early next year. Even if the Bush administration reduces the size of the force in Iraq in 2008, analysts expect the 2009 budget to remain between $170 billion and $200 billion.
“As long as large numbers of U.S. troops and civilian contractors are deployed in the country,” Thompson said, “it is going to cost billions of dollars a month to protect them.”
Times staff writer Noam N. Levey contributed to this report.