WASHINGTON – The House was poised to give the Pentagon an additional $45 billion for wars next year, even as public support for combat in Iraq wanes and lawmakers press for an exit strategy.
While President Bush has not asked yet for more war funds, lawmakers included money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in a spending bill the House was expected to approve.
With no end in sight in Iraq and Afghanistan, additional war costs are certain and House lawmakers are reluctant to wait for the president's request.
The Senate also is considering adding billions for the wars in its version of the spending bill.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has given the president $350 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting terrorism worldwide. That total includes $82 billion that lawmakers approved in May; much of this money was for Iraq.
In the month since, polls have shown that the public increasingly is dissatisfied with the direction of the Iraq war.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that only 41 percent of adults — a low-water mark — said they supported Bush's handling of the war. A Gallup poll reported that six in 10 Americans want the United States to withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.
Responding to the growing criticism, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) urged Americans to "reach down" into themselves and "look for the kind of patience and generosity that we have exhibited in the past."
"Now, I do think that we owe to the American people to say again and again that this is not going to be an American enterprise for the long term. This is going to be an Iraqi enterprise," she said.
Military officials said they hoped to reverse the downward trend in public support.
"It is concerning that our public is not as supportive as perhaps they once were," said Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"It's extremely important to the soldier and the Marine, the airman and the sailor over there, to know that their country's behind them," Conway said.
Discontent about the war is evident among lawmakers.
On Thursday, a small group of House members from each party introduced a resolution that would require the president to announce by year's end a plan for bringing home troops from Iraq and take steps to follow through. Withdrawal would have to start by Oct. 1, 2006, according to the measure.
"After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and discussion," said one sponsor, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who voted for the war.
Introduced the same day attacks west of Baghdad killed six U.S. troops, the joint resolution is the first such proposal offered by both Democrats and Republicans. In 2002, most Democrats and six House Republicans voted against sending troops to Iraq.
Sen. Russ Feingold (search), D-Wis., introduced a resolution this week that urges the Bush administration to give Congress a time frame for achieving military goals in Iraq and bringing home troops.
The White House argued that a timetable cannot be considered until Iraq's army is strong enough. The administration also has said any withdrawal plan would encourage insurgents to wait for foreign troops to leave Iraq.
"Timetables simply send the wrong message. They send the wrong message to the terrorists. They send the wrong message to the Iraqi people. They send the wrong message to our troops who are serving admirably and working to complete an important mission," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday.
Excluding war money, the House bill provides $364 billion for the Pentagon for the 2006 budget year that begins Oct. 1. That amount is about 3 percent greater this year's base funding. The House bill is about $3 billion less than the president wants for defense.
The measure would fund a 3.1 percent pay raise for the military. Lawmakers hope it could help entice current and prospective troops at a time when enlistments are lagging.
Bush, in the Pentagon spending proposal he submitted to Congress in February, did not request any money to pay for the wars. The White House insisted it did not yet know how much would be needed for next year — an argument it has used before to omit war costs from its initial budget.