JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The White House is rejecting a call from one Democratic lawmaker who suggested President Bush ask wealthy taxpayers to forgo upcoming tax cuts to cover the cost of administering postwar Iraq.
Sen. Joe Biden (search), D-Del., ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday that he thought everyone in the top tax bracket would agree to his suggestion if asked by the president.
"What if the president had said on Sunday night: 'To all of you who are making a million dollars and getting a $93,000 tax cut next year, for all of you in the top 1 percent, I ask you to join those middle class and poor folks who are giving their sons and daughters to the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and I ask you to forgo the last year of the tax cut?'" Biden said, conjecturing that they would take up the president on that request.
White House officials said Tuesday the president is not going to renege on his tax cut package because he is trying to protect the rich, but because he is trying to protect the jobs created by small businesses that pay taxes at the personal income tax rate.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised questions about how the United States is going to pay the $87 billion price tag that Bush has estimated for expenses related to the war on terror next year. The president made the request in an address to the nation Sunday night that was immediately met with bipartisan promises to fund reconstruction, though many Democrats insisted they wanted to see the president's plan for the money.
Several Democratic lawmakers say they want to see a strategy by the president that includes getting other countries to help foot the bill as well as provide the security on the ground in Iraq.
Bush got off to a shaky start in Florida Tuesday when Air Force One (search) aborted its first landing after a police car assigned to the president's motorcade tripped up air traffic controllers who didn't know it was supposed to be on a road near the runway.
The minor delay did not stop the president from reaching his destinations: an education event sandwiched between twin fund-raisers expected to net $2.8 million for his re-election campaign, which is estimated to have collected more than $62 million so far.
At the events, Bush barely remarked on Iraq — an issue that will take his direct focus on Wednesday and Friday during visits to military bases in Virginia and Georgia. But the overall tenor of the president's fund-raising speech heavily emphasized his national security credentials, which he hopes, combined with education initiatives and tax cuts he delivered as promised, will be enough to win Florida's 27 electoral votes in 2004.
During his speech to donors, Bush did appeal to other nations to help with the cost of rebuilding the nation tattered by 25 years of corruption and terror at the hands of deposed leader Saddam Hussein.
"We're calling on other nations to help make Iraq a free country, which will make us all more secure," Bush said at a fund-raiser in Jacksonville, Fla.
The president's $87 billion emergency spending request includes $21 billion for what White House aides say are priority needs in Iraq. But officials say next year's rebuilding needs may total three or four times what the U.S. can provide.
Lawmakers at a Senate Armed Services Committee (search) hearing chastised Defense Department officials for suggesting the price tag would be paid for with Iraq's own resources.
"You told Congress in March that we're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon. Talk about rosy scenarios," said Sen. Carl Levin (search) of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Senate panel.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that Iraq's oil fields are in such bad shape, they'll only produce about half of what was predicted before the war, and that the effort to restore power and water and rebuild hospitals and clinics will require $40 billion in aid from other countries.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also conceded on Tuesday that any countries that help with the security and reconstruction of Iraq deserve a say in how their cash contributions are spent. And she defended the overall cost of the measures.
"Yes, the price tag may be very high. However, freedom is priceless. Security is priceless. When the World Trade Center came down, we would have paid any price to avoid that," Rice said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell is headed to Geneva this weekend to ask U.N. Security Council members who opposed the war to endorse America's postwar administration. While officials are signaling they will give up authority over the creation of a civilian administration, they also insist the military remain under U.S. control, saying that too many hands on the steering wheel, especially on the military side, is not great.
Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said he is counting on more than $40 billion in pledges at a donors conference later this month, and said that if the United Nations endorses his mission, nations will be more likely to give.
Fox News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.