By LAWRENCE M. O'ROURKE
April 24, 2005
Besides, the legislation to pay for the war also gives some in Congress a chance to toss in a few items that may not at first sight appear to be linked to the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The $81 billion supplemental war spending bill passed Thursday by the Senate authorized $55 million for a wastewater treatment plant in DeSoto County, Miss., and $25 million for a fish hatchery in Montana, according to private budget analysts.
The analysts said the items were approved by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a key figure in winning passage of the legislation.
Even without those items, the cost to the United States of waging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now tops $300 billion, with at least $75 billion more to be added next year, and additional sums beyond.
If the United States is forced to keep 40,000 troops in Iraq through 2010, as some Pentagon strategists anticipate, the Iraq war cost could rise to $646 billion, said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Costs are rising steadily, Spratt said in a report, "because the war is lasting longer, and is more intense, and the cost to keep troops in the theater of operations is proving to be much greater than anyone anticipated."
The Pentagon and the White House Office of Management and Budget won't begin to estimate the war's final cost, pointing out that the final price tag depends on factors not yet under control, such as the length of the U.S. stay and the speed at training an effective Iraqi security force.
On Capitol Hill, the administration's request for war costs money for the rest of this fiscal year barely raised a ripple, so aware are members of Congress that any criticism could be viewed as exposing U.S. troops to harm.
With barely a word of complaint about the cost, the Senate on Thursday approved the $81.3 billion supplemental spending bill that included $76.8 billion in war costs.
That came on the heels of House approval last month of $74.8 billion for military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Reference Service, the new spending came on top of previous approval by Congress of $228 billion for the war.
Relatively minor differences in the two bills are likely to be ironed out in the next few weeks.
The gentle carping against the legislation was centered on the method chosen to pay the war bill and the inclusion of some items that in other times would have been in other legislation.
The method chosen by the president in asking for the Iraq and Afghanistan money was to classify the request as an emergency, a process traditionally used for unexpected spending. That leads to what Congress calls a supplemental spending bill.
Traditionally, supplementals cover such emergencies as gearing up national security and dealing with the human and physical damage caused by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"But the justification for calling this emergency spending has worn thin," said Pete Sepp, vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, a fiscally conservative watchdog group on federal spending.
"The administration's reliance on supplemental appropriations as the primary mechanism for covering the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is inappropriate," said Steven M Kosiak, budget analyst at the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Kosiak said the overall combat costs so far do not include $31 billion in items classified as foreign affairs funding. Of that are the uncertain costs of rebuilding the Iraqi facilities destroyed by the war or the cost of establishing a new government in Iraq.
Sepp said that calling the war cost request emergency spending gives the White House, in presenting its budget each year, an excuse for underestimating the deficit. The deficit this year is expected to reach $427 billion, a record in dollar terms. Bush said his goal is to cut it in half by 2009.