President Bush (search) plans to send Congress a request early next year to finance wars in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search) and operations against terrorism that could reach $75 billion, congressional aides said Tuesday.
A proposal of that magnitude would indicate that the wars' costs, particularly to battle the intensified Iraqi insurgency, are far exceeding what the Bush administration said it was expecting early this year.
White House budget office spokesman Chad Kolton said administration officials were only starting to assess what is needed to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"There is literally no way to ascribe a final figure to what we will request," he said.
The Iraq war's price tag has become an issue in the presidential race, with the Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry (search), saying Bush has mismanaged the fight and diverted billions of dollars that could have been spent for schools and other priorities. Bush has defended the war as a needed part of the campaign against terror.
"Incompetence has a cost," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a written statement. "This war has been a hideous mistake that has diminished our reputation in the world and has not made America safer."
Kolton said the Pentagon has enough money to support U.S. troops well into the spring, adding, "We'll make sure they have what they need to get the job done."
The fresh request would be on top of $215 billion that lawmakers have provided since 2001 to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and begin rebuilding those countries, according to White House figures.
Taken together, a $290 billion total would be nearly half the $623 billion cost of the Vietnam War and almost half the $613 billion U.S. costs in World War I, using dollars adjusted for inflation.
Several congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed the coming request would exceed $50 billion and could reach $70 billion or $75 billion. Others said they think the White House will compress the figure before it is completed.
One aide said the Army, the main fighting force in Iraq, believes it will need $6 billion annually for the next three years for deferred maintenance and to replace and repair destroyed and damaged equipment. It also wants $5 billion to $10 billion for extra troops and equipment needed to fight the war and to reshape its force structure.
According to its latest figures, the Pentagon (search) is spending an average of $4.4 billion monthly in Iraq and $769 million in Afghanistan. Assuming no reduction in U.S. forces or operations in either country, that would equate to more than $62 billion in the 12 months.
The Bush administration began insisting this year that it would not request additional war money until early 2005. White House budget chief Joshua Bolten said $50 billion might be the "upper limit" on next year's war spending.
Under pressure from lawmakers who believed the funds would be depleted sooner, Bush requested $25 billion in May. Administration officials said the money would not be needed until after Oct. 1, when the government's new budget year began.
Congress provided the $25 billion in August. Of that, the Pentagon said $2.2 billion was made available before Oct. 1 for body armor, higher fuel costs and other expenses, and another $5.2 billion has been made available for use over the next three to four months.