Washington Hit by sticker shock, lawmakers in Congress said Monday that eventually they would approve President Bush's request for $87 billion more for Iraq and the war on terror, but they want to know more about how the money will be spent and efforts to share the financial burden.
"We'll have to work on it as quickly as possible. I think it's a bill that we have to pay," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, cited the need to protect "troops in harm's way" and pledged to "aggressively expedite" the budget request.
But Democratic candidates for president blasted Bush's spending request as the result of failed policies and miscalculations. Several charged that the administration had deliberately underestimated the costs of Iraqi occupation and reconstruction before launching the war.
"A 15-minute speech does not make up for 15 months of misleading the American people on why we should go to war against Iraq or 15 weeks of mismanaging the reconstruction effort since we have been there," said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, widely regarded as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said the request was more than what the federal government would spend on education this year, and twice as much as spending on highways, bridges and public transit systems.
"The president is clearly making a judgment that it is more important for us to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to deal with the very serious problems we have in the United States," Graham said.
Federal spending on education will total $59.4 billion this year, fiscal 2003. The Homeland Security budget is $28.1 billion. Federal aid to highways totals $28.6 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency's budget is $7.96 billion.
Most of Bush's new spending request for the coming year -- $51 billion -- would support military operations in Iraq, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced Monday. An additional $15 billion would go to military operations in Afghanistan.
The remaining $21 billion would be spent on reconstruction of those nations' broken infrastructure -- schools, roads, utilities, hospitals.
Reconstruction costs ultimately will total up to $75 billion, the budget office estimated, and the administration hopes that Iraqi oil revenues and donations from other nations will help cover the final bill. An initial $5 billion would go to what the administration calls an urgent need -- training Iraqi army, police and security forces.
Bush's spending request was an acknowledgment that Iraqi occupation and rebuilding efforts have proved to be much costlier and more dangerous than administration officials predicted. Deep in the spending details are items reflecting that 149 Americans have died since major military operations ended May 1, and that some U.S. units will stay in Iraq longer than originally planned.
For example, the administration is seeking $300 million for body armor for troops and $140 million for heavily armored Humvees. The budget request also would cover costs of giving troops two weeks off for a break in their tour of duty.