WASHINGTON – As lawmakers pore over the expenses of rebuilding a defeated Iraq, some members are preparing to get a first-hand look at the work that needs to be done.
Next Thursday, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Defense Appropriations subcommittee ranking member Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, will lead a group on a trip that is expected to include Baghdad.
"We want to see for ourselves what we're doing," Inouye said.
Another congressional delegation made up of a half dozen House members and headed by Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, will leave the same day for the Middle East. A congressional aide speaking on condition of anonymity said Iraq will likely be folded into the plan.
If they go, the members will be the first to arrive on government-sanctioned visits by lawmakers since the war. Last month, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., entered the country from Kuwait after the major fighting had ended. However, he did not get clearance from the State and Defense departments.
Some legislators are anticipating that the $79 billion war supplemental bill (search) passed last month to pay for the costs of the war and its aftermath, as well as the broader war on terror, does not include enough cash for reconstruction efforts. They are hearing rumors that the administration is preparing another request.
"We're starting to hear there very likely will be a second supplemental before too long" requested by the administration, said House Appropriations Committee (search) Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. "I suspect it will be for postwar Iraq."
The additional $79 billion was added to the 2003 fiscal year budget, driving up the projected deficit for the year. More money appropriated before the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1, would add to that total.
But the administration denies it has a budget request in the works, and says the money appropriated for reconstruction — about $2.5 billion — should last for the near future.
White House budget office (search) spokesman Trent Duffy said the cash should last longer because the war produced fewer refugees and oil well fires that were budgeted as expenses. Congress set aside $489 million for fighting fires and restoring Iraq's oil industry facilities, already in bad shape before damages from war and looting.
He added that the administration also has access to $1.7 billion in frozen Iraqi assets and the discovery by U.S. troops of $650 million in American money, if it isn't counterfeit.
"At this point, there doesn't appear to be any need to have an additional request to Congress this year," Duffy said.
Even if the administration does get through the fiscal year without an additional request, many lawmakers and analysts foresee higher reconstruction appropriations next year. They are not assuaged by Bush administration hopes that the expenses will be defrayed by Iraqi oil revenue and contributions from other countries and multinational organizations like the World Bank.
Next year alone, reconstruction costs could reach a minimum of $10 billion, said Gordon Adams, a George Washington University professor of international affairs.
Adams added that the prices of keeping 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq next year, 25,000 in 2005 and 12,500 the following year could cost $25 billion total.
Pentagon budget official Dov Zakheim said at the end of the major fighting that the costs of the 29-day campaign had reached at least $20 billion and that figure would probably double at least before the end of the fiscal year. He said the price tag excluded rebuilding costs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.