WASHINGTON - With President Bush on the brink of sending U.S. troops to what could be an enormously costly conflict in Iraq, Congress is preparing to approve as much as $100 billion in additional federal funding to wage the war.
The White House has given Congress few clues about how much money it will request in the coming days, or what the spending will cover, but congressional leaders and senior appropriators say they will pass legislation this spring that would fund the months-long military buildup in the Persian Gulf region and the costs of fighting the war in Iraq.
The measure could include an infusion for homeland security costs and for postwar costs in Iraq, including humanitarian needs, the rebuilding of infrastructure and a new government.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday that the supplemental spending measure could include funding to help states shoulder the costs of bolstering security as part of "Operation Liberty Shield."
"There may be an opportunity to help the states," Ridge said, declining to give specific figures.
As the likelihood of war has grown in recent weeks, lawmakers in both parties have made a point of saying they will approve whatever resources are necessary to sustain U.S. troops and ensure the quick victory Bush administration officials say they expect. Once troops are engaged in combat, Congress will get them what they need, lawmakers say, and until Bush sends a number to Capitol Hill, they hesitate to speculate.
"When we're at war, I think we ought to be listening to the people who are involved - the commander in chief and the generals," said Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee. "I don't think we can define what they need, and I don't think we ought to be coming up with numbers until we know what we're talking about."
What to include?
But lawmakers are already drawing lines as to what kinds of funding requests they will and will not support. And appropriators are lining up spending proposals they hope to include in what will doubtless be a popular and quick-moving measure.
Stevens said yesterday that the supplemental spending measure should be confined to military and homeland security costs. Congress should help decide what the U.S. role will be in the costly and potentially time-consuming process of rebuilding Iraq after the war, he said, but should not provide the money until "after the initial phase of the war has been concluded."
"I do not want to see that in there," Stevens said of including reconstruction costs for Iraq in the midyear spending measure. "I want to see this be an appropriations bill that deals with our needs to protect our people in uniform and provide for them and provide for our homeland security."
Others said they expect the spending measure to be far broader.
"A supplemental would have a lot of components to it," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, including "war costs and post-Saddam costs" such as rebuilding the country and providing humanitarian aid.
Bush administration officials have kept their estimates under tight wraps in recent days, telling top lawmakers only that a spending request would be on its way to Capitol Hill shortly after hostilities begin. In a meeting Monday night before Bush's national address, Vice President Dick Cheney told committee leaders "to expect it not too far after" the war begins, said Trent Duffy, a spokesman for the White House budget office.
"It's yet to be determined," Duffy said of the size of the spending proposal and what would be included. "The request is being finalized."
The costs of Iraq
Still, lawmakers and aides have received rough estimates from individual federal agencies, as well as a flurry of independent analyses on what a war and its aftermath would cost.
According to one such analysis of Pentagon and congressional budget data, released in late February by the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the direct military costs of a war in Iraq could range from $18 billion for a one-month conflict to $85 billion for a six-month engagement. The costs of a five-year occupation could far exceed the cost of the war, the policy research institute found, from $25 billion for a 20,000-member peacekeeping force to $105 billion for an occupation by 90,000 troops.
William D. Nordhaus, an economist at Yale University, has estimated that direct military costs could range from $50 billion for a "short and successful" war to $140 billion if U.S. troops are drawn into a prolonged engagement of up to a year. Reconstruction could cost $25 billion to $100 billion, Nordhaus said in an October report, with up to $10 billion more needed for humanitarian aid.
"It gets pretty complicated as to what's going to be included," said Steven M. Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who wrote the February report. "There's a large degree of genuine uncertainty, and there's still a fair amount of division within the administration about how large of an investment they want to make in rebuilding Iraq.
"It'll boil down to some sort of guesstimate of what they need to get through the rest of the year."
This week, the House and Senate are considering comprehensive budget plans for fiscal 2004 that provide for Bush's proposed $726 billion tax cut and show large deficits during the next several years. Democrats and some Republicans have balked at approving such plans while they remain in the dark about how much money they will be asked to add for Iraq.
"No one can be expected to make an informed decision about fiscal policy at this time," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "Let us wait until we have succeeded in Iraq."
Like many Democrats, McCain said he will not support spending increases or tax cuts until war costs become clearer.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat and senior appropriator, said yesterday that Congress should take a "patriotic pause" to determine the costs related to Iraq before approving the budget.
"We don't know the costs of the war - this is going to be a tremendous undertaking," Mikulski said. "Until we do, we should not be going forward with this."
But the Republican-led Senate rejected attempts by Senate Democrats to halt Bush tax cuts.
Senators are wasting little time lining up wish lists for the supplemental spending measure, even before Bush has requested it.
If homeland security costs are part of it, said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, the measure should include relief for the airline industry, which expects to face devastating costs as a result of an Iraq war.
"This is certainly homeland security," Hutchison said.
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, both New York Democrats, are pushing to include $7 billion for law enforcement and emergency workers and for other homeland security costs.
"These are wartime expenses," Clinton said yesterday, "and they must be counted as such."