WASHINGTON – Despite Democratic complaints that President Bush does not have a plan for Iraq and Afghanistan in the next year, the head of the House Appropriations Committee (search) said that the $87 billion the president requested would soon be on its way.
"It is my intention to aggressively expedite the president's request for supplemental funds for the war on terrorism in Iraq and around the world," Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said Monday. "We have troops in harm's ways and we should provide them every resource available to ensure their safety."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who was traveling with the president to Nashville on Monday, issued a statement saying he looked forward to working with the administration on its request.
"The president's proposal for emergency funding to underwrite this effort; to seek U.N. assistance; expand the international coalition; and to speed the transfer of power to the Iraqi people warrants the support of the Congress," he said.
Young said he was not expecting to get details of the request for at least a week, but would move quickly through the process once a formal submission was made by the administration. Senior administration officials said Monday they would submit a request after a few days in order to consult with members of Congress about the form the request will take and the maximum amount of flexibility it can provide the president.
In an address to the nation on Sunday, Bush said his military advisers had carefully calculated their needs for fighting the war on terror in the next year.
The president said he would request $66 billion from Congress to pay for military and intelligence in both Iraq and Afghanistan, of which $52 billion would go to Iraq and $11 billion for Afghanistan. Another $3 billion would go to help with "mobilization of coalition partners."
An additional $21 billion would pay for reconstruction and security, including training of police forces and the army.
"This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore to our own security," Bush said.
The money would supplement the Department of Defense's 2004 budget and would not be offset with any cuts in other spending. Defense officials have said U.S. operations are costing about $3.9 billion monthly. Others estimate the number for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is more like $5 billion per month.
A congressional official familiar with the request told the Associated Press that $200 million would go to the Horn of Africa (search), $1.5 billion would be used for U.S. support of foreign troops participating in stabilizing Iraq with $5 billion for security there and $15 billion for work on restoring and upgrading the nation's infrastructure. Another $2.2 billion would be set aside for reserve mobilization, if necessary.
The numbers are higher than the administration's original estimates of $60-$80 billion, and come as a surprise for some lawmakers.
"This may not be Vietnam, but boy, it sure smells like it. And every time I see these bills coming down for the money ... it's costing like Vietnam, too," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (search) said the president did ask for more money than he expected would be requested, perhaps even more than is needed. But Grassley added that he understood the president needs to get the issue behind him and "not have it come up between now and the next election."
Most Democratic lawmakers appear resigned for the long haul, and said they are more concerned with what the president is going to do with the money. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the president deserves credit for finally admitting the Iraq operation was much bigger than he anticipated it would be.
"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 where millions of workers have lost their jobs in the past two years, millions of Americans lack health insurance or can barely afford it, and millions of children in overcrowded and inadequate classrooms were promised change but haven't seen it," he said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would scrutinize the reconstruction money more closely than the money for troops, whom lawmakers have uniformly backed.
"Already facing a nearly half trillion-dollar deficit, American taxpayers deserve to know how this spending will affect our ability to address the unmet needs in our own country.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan responded to concerns that the $87 billion, which comes on top of $79 billion Congress approved in April for the cost of the war in Iraq and its aftermath, is not too high a price to pay for security.
"This is the war on terrorism. This is about making the world safer," McClellan said. "This is about making America more secure. And the president will do what it takes when it comes to the highest of priorities."
McClellan added: "We continue to believe the deficit is manageable. We have a plan to address it, and we're working to address it." Last month, the Congressional Budget Office projected a $480 billion deficit for fiscal year 2004. A senior administration official said Monday that with the new request, the Office of Management and Budget estimates as much as a $535 billion deficit in 2004, about 4.7 percent of gross domestic product.
"We think that it is manageable within our current deficit situation if we continue to hold the line on spending ... and if we continue to pursue pro-growth policies," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.
Administration officials say as long as Congress manages to keep spending on other programs in 2004 to 4 percent, the deficit should not grow beyond 5 percent of GDP, the mark at which economists begin to get nervous about the size of the budget shortfall. Congress was unable to stay within the 4 percent range the president advocated for the 2003 fiscal year.
Even if the political season were not entering high gear, questions about funding and deficits are sure to grow. Ranking member of the House Budget Committee John Spratt, D-S.C., said the money the president has estimated for 2004 not only adds to the debt, but likely will not be enough.
"If $66 billion is needed to pay for military costs, $20 billion is left for reconstruction of Iraq, which is only a fraction of what [U.S. civil administrator in Iraq Ambassador L. Paul Bremer], the World Bank, and the IMF have indicated is needed. Their tab runs closer to $50-75 billion, and this covers just the basics," Spratt said, adding that the president's request only deals with this year and not 2005 or 2006.
Spratt said one or more of three things must happen if the United States is going to fund the reconstruction of Iraq: get Iraq's oil fields operating soon, reverse tax cuts that are scheduled to take effect in the coming years and ask for assistance from the international community.
"The first Bush administration sought and achieved enough allied support to nearly cover the costs of the first Gulf War. That stands in stark contrast to this administration, which is borrowing about $150 billion for the first two supplementals for the second war," Spratt said.
The administration said it projects Iraq oil revenues next year to be about $20 billion, half of what was anticipated before the coalition entered Iraq and discovered just how decrepit its infrastructure is.
As the British agree to send another 1,200 troops to join its 11,000-strong force already on the ground in Iraq, the Bush administration has acknowledged that international cooperation is needed — both in terms of nations involved and funding.
U.S. officials have drafted a resolution for the United Nations Security Council that, if passed, would encourage member nations to contribute in Iraq.
The administration, however, is reluctant to cede its authority to organizations or nations that refused to help depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and it does not want to hand over leadership from Bremer to a U.N. command.
"I think the U.N. should [play a role]. But should it play the only role to the exclusion of what the provisional authority has been doing and needs to continue doing in the future? That I couldn't agree to because I don’t think it's in a position to do so," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday after meeting with Ana Palacio, the foreign minister of coalition ally Spain.
Though differences remain between the United States and France and Germany, negotiations continue at the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged everyone to set aside any old grudges and focus on Iraq's future, and seemed confident that a deal is possible.
"If they sat and discussed frankly and openly, I think we would be able to find a solution," he said.
Democratic lawmakers say if the president wants to get the U.N. to help, it needs to do more than pay "lip service" to the international body.
"If we expect to get a substantial contribution of troops and resources from other nations, we will have to provide a meaningful role for the U.N. in the political development of a new Iraqi government and in the reconstruction of Iraq," said Sen. Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a frequent critic of the administration.
Fox News' Jim Angle and Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.