WASHINGTON – Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost more than $50 billion next year, a top Defense Department official told Congress Thursday in the Bush administration's clearest description yet of the conflicts' price tags.
The remarks by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's (search) edged the administration toward critics' estimates that combat will cost closer to $75 billion in the budget year that starts Oct. 1. White House budget chief Joshua Bolten said earlier this year that $50 billion might be the "upper limit" on next year's war spending.
Wolfowitz also seemed to open the door to compromise over the White House's unusual request for full control over the first $25 billion for the wars. Congress is expected to provide the money, but members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (search) were critical of the unfettered flexibility the proposal would give the president.
"Our forefathers would have scorned such arrogance as has been demonstrated by this administration in this request," said Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va.
Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said lawmakers must "maintain our oversight" of the money.
With monthly war expenditures approaching $5 billion, next year's total cost "is $50 billion to $60 billion," Wolfowitz told senators. "If you look at our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a big bill."
On Wednesday, President Bush formally proposed an initial $25 billion for next year's military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Administration officials had earlier said they would seek no money until next year because of questions about allied contributions and the stability of Iraq.
Wolfowitz told senators that the next request for funds will come early next year, and "it will surely be much larger than $25 billion."
That means the total in 2005 would be more than $50 billion.
The war spending is on top of the $402 billion Bush has proposed for the Defense Department for 2005.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has provided $165 billion to the Pentagon for Iraq, Afghanistan and anti-terrorism efforts at home and abroad -- excluding what Bush wants for next year.
The initial $25 billion is meant to help the Army and other services pay for operations and maintenance for the first months of next year. Those expenses traditionally include repairs, fuel, food and other similar necessities.
But that excludes other needs, such as paying salaries of reservists called to duty and replacing destroyed and worn out equipment.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls the Pentagon's budget, has said he expects next year's cost to be $75 billion. Democrats on the House Budget Committee have calculated that the price tag will range from $67 billion to $79 billion, based on current spending reports by the Defense Department.
The White House's $25 billion request has scant detail but says the president could transfer funds to any defense or classified accounts just by telling lawmakers five days in advance.
Wolfowitz initially defended the request, saying, "We are looking for the kind of flexibility that will make sure that when a need arises, we can allocate funds to where that need exists."
But after senators pressed him on the question of control, Wolfowitz said, "We will work with you."
Separately, the House will consider a defense policy bill next week that proposes using $16 billion of the $25 billion for operations and maintenance, with most of the rest for personnel costs and buying armored Humvees and other equipment. A final decision on the money will be made in later spending legislation.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, D-Mass., said he will support the $25 billion request.
"The situation in Iraq has deteriorated far beyond what the administration anticipated. This money is urgently needed, and it is completely focused on the needs of our troops," he said in a written statement.
The request excludes $1 billion that Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the House International Relations Committee will be needed next year to staff a U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
That excludes construction of an embassy, which under some scenarios would cost an additional $1 billion.