WASHINGTON – A House (search) subcommittee approved an initial $45 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, two weeks after Congress approved $82 billion for this year's costs of the conflicts.
President Bush (search) has not yet requested any money for the wars during the 2006 budget year, which starts Oct. 1, arguing it is too early to tell what will be needed. But with no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, war costs are certain and many lawmakers are reluctant to wait for his request.
"They need the money. We're putting it in," Rep. John Murtha (search) of Pennsylvania, the leading Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, said Tuesday after the panel met privately to approve the bill. Murtha was one of several people who said the bill would have $45 billion for war costs.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, lawmakers have approved $350.6 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as fighting terrorism worldwide, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan organization that writes reports for Congress.
That includes $82 billion lawmakers provided earlier this month for the remainder of this budget year. Last spring, Congress approved $25 billion to begin to cover this year's costs of the wars, which the White House requested only after coming under pressure from lawmakers.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have grown increasingly critical of the administration for using separate, later legislation — instead of the normal budget — to pay for war costs. The White House has come before Congress five times in the past four years to ask for money to fight terrorism.
Bush did not request any money to pay for the wars in the $419 billion Defense Department proposal for 2006 he sent lawmakers in February. The White House insisted it did not yet know how much would be needed for next year — an argument it has used in previous years to omit war costs from its initial budget.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., declined to comment until the spending bill goes before the Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks. Much of the bill is being kept under wraps until then to reduce pressure from lobbyists hoping to change parts of it.
Congressional aides said most of the money approved Tuesday for the wars — $28.7 billion — would go to operations and maintenance, while the rest would be divided among several funds, including military personnel, intelligence and procurement.
Leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee also are considering adding billions for the wars in their version of the defense spending bill.
The House and Senate are working on separate bills setting Defense Department policy for next year that both plan $50 billion for the wars. The subcommittee measure approved Tuesday would actually provide the money.
Scott Milburn, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said it's unclear how much money will be needed for wars next year.
"The nature of the conflict makes it hard to project that, because it's hard to determine what upcoming needs will be," he said.
However, Milburn added, "If the final version of the bill were to include these funds, the administration would work with Congress on how best to allocate them."