WASHINGTON – Democrats are lambasting President Bush for his $25 billion request for fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, saying they will support the money but accusing him of low-balling the amount for political reasons.
The proposal marked an abrupt reversal for a White House that until recently had insisted it would not seek more money until next year. The reversal came amid intensified combat that is forcing the Pentagon to keep more troops in Iraq than they anticipated, and pressure from lawmakers saying the money must be approved before Congress adjourns in October for presidential and congressional elections.
Administration officials outlined the request to Republican congressional leaders at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday. The money is for the first months of the federal budget year that begins Oct. 1, 2004, but is only half the $50 billion the White House has said it could need for 2005.
Critics say more than that will be needed. With this year's federal deficit expected to exceed last year's record of $374 billion, Democrats said the $25 billion request was an attempt to hide the war's real costs before the fall elections.
"The track record of the Bush White House in accounting for funds for Iraq is a record of confusion, obfuscation, bumbling, denial, and deception," said Sen. Robert Byrd (search) of West Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee (search) and a frequent critic of the administration's Iraq policies.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (search) of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democratic leader, called the request "the most recent episode in a pattern of secrecy by an administration that refuses to share information with the American people even when confronted with facts that stand in opposition to their policies."
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said it was too early to tell whether he would support the proposal. The Massachusetts senator said U.S. troops "need to get what they need," but he faulted the administration for failing to provide them promptly with body armor and humvee trucks.
Bush, in a written statement, said he decided on the request after he, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan discussed their fiscal needs on Wednesday.
"While we do not know the precise costs for operations next year, recent developments on the ground and increased demands on our troops indicate the need to plan for contingencies," Bush said. "We must make sure there is no disruption in funding and resources for our troops."
Like many Republican leaders, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said he supported providing "whatever resources are needed to fight terrorism" and would attempt to quickly move it through Congress.
In response to concerns raised last month after disclosures that the administration had not informed lawmakers about some Iraq-related expenditures in 2002, Bush added: "We will insist on accountability for the expenditure of these funds and look forward to consulting with the administration on future needs in the region."
The administration provided few details, but officials said all the money would be for the military. The funds would add to the federal deficit, but all $25 billion probably would not be spent next year.
Even before Wednesday's request, Congress had provided $165 billion for the Pentagon for Iraq, Afghanistan and anti-terror efforts at home and abroad since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to an October 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service.