WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) hinted Sunday that the Bush administration would seek more money next year than the additional $87 billion already requested to pay mainly for postwar costs in Iraq.
He also said the administration does not know when the U.S. military presence in Iraq will end. "I don't think anybody can say with absolute certainty at this point," Cheney said.
Amid a rising U.S. casualty count in Iraq and continuing attacks and other resistance, the administration has faced criticism for its postwar strategy. Democratic presidential candidates and others have said too little planning was done on how to rebuild the country and how to pay for it.
The White House says it will soon ask Congress to approve the $87 billion for military and reconstruction activities both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with the bulk of the request earmarked for Iraq. That too has come under severe question in Congress.
Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if that would be the final such request, Cheney replied: "I can't say that. It's all we think we'll need for the foreseeable future, for this year."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) wouldn't go even that far. He said consultations are under way with lawmakers, and how long the $87 billion will last has not been determined.
"It's a process that's being handled by the president and the Office of Management and Budget," Rumsfeld said. "I think that after those consultations with Congress, we'll have the answer to your question."
"I think it's important to let the people who are engaging in that process define it."
Cheney defended the request.
"What's the cost if we don't act? What's the cost if we do nothing? What's the cost if we don't succeed with respect to our current operation in Iraq?" he asked. "I think that's far higher than getting the job done right here."
Despite doubts being aired about increasingly about the U.S. role in postwar Iraq, and the lack of international help, Cheney said the occupation is seeing "major success, major progress."
"We've achieved already, when you consider we've only been there about four months, a great deal, and we're well on our way to achieving our objectives," he said.
Most believe at least the military part of the $87 billion request will be approved even as lawmakers promise it will be greeted with tough questions.
"I intend to examine carefully what the president is asking for, what it will go for, how the money's going to be spent," Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), D-Mo., a Democratic presidential candidate, said on "Fox News Sunday."
"We need to support the troops, and we're going to support the troops. Exactly what amount that will take is a question that we've got to examine carefully."
Some Democrats have suggested that some of the recently enacted Bush-backed tax cuts be rolled back to help pay for the $87 billion.
But Cheney rejected that idea. "I think it would be a mistake," he said. "You can't look at that without considering what its impact would be on the economy."
Appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," Sen. Joseph Biden (search) of Delaware, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, derided such reasoning. "The idea that $87 billion out of over a trillion-dollar tax cut is going to set back the economy over 10 years; that is absolute malarkey," Biden said.
Cheney insisted that evidence will be found to back up the administration's claims that the government of ousted President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Such evidence has not been found, despite the administration's prewar claims that it knew where the weapons were. The suspected weapons were cited as a main rationale for going to war.
On other topics, Cheney:
- Said "I don't know" whether Saddam was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks but asserted a relationship between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network that "stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s." That collaboration, he said, involved training of al-Qaida personnel in Baghdad in chemical and biological weapons and the provision of bomb-making expertise to the terrorist network by the Iraqis. In addition, one of the bombers of the 1993 World Trade Center attack probably received financing and shelter from the Iraqi government, Cheney said.
- Said "I have to assume" that there will be another attack on the United States. "While we've had major success against (terrorism)," he said, "the fact of the matter is that there were thousands of people that went through those training camps in Afghanistan."
- Suggested the White House does not support outfitting all commercial airliners with protection against being shot down by surface-to-air missiles because it would be too expensive.
- Said he had no involvement in a large no-bid contract for work in Iraq to a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company Cheney once led. "As vice president, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of, in any way, shape or form, of contracts," he said.