WASHINGTON - Reversing course, the Bush administration asked Republican congressional leaders yesterday to add $25 billion to next year's budget to help pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, abandoning plans to put off requests for new money until after the November elections.
The funding is only the first installment of what the administration expects to need for next year. Military leaders and some lawmakers put that overall figure at about $50 billion. But it is a politically palatable way to inject new money into the military this fall, without the need for a congressional vote on Iraq on the eve of the presidential election.
Once Congress has approved the request - most likely as part of the regular 2005 defense spending bill - the $25 billion will be available after Oct. 1.
"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," President Bush said in a statement. "We must make sure there is no disruption in funding and resources for our troops."
Bush said that request would be made "when we can better estimate precise costs."
Republican leaders, briefed at the Capitol yesterday by Joshua B. Bolten, the White House budget director, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, said they would support the request.
"We have no choice but to support our president and our troops at this critical time," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said in a statement. "This request comes as no surprise to me or to many of my colleagues."
The new request, which would add to the deficit, is likely to provoke intense debate from lawmakers who have grown anxious about the war in Iraq.
It came one day after the administration changed course and said it planned to keep 135,000 troops in Iraq until the end of next year, instead of the 115,000 it had previously planned. The request also came during a week when lawmakers are responding to reports about abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
Democrats reacted angrily to news of the $25 billion request, though they said they expect to support it.
"While I am committed to our ensuring that our troops have the resources they need to complete their challenging mission in Iraq, it's also true that success in Iraq demands more than another request for additional funds that will add to our already record deficits," Daschle said in a statement.
Early this year, Bush was criticized for failing to request any money in his 2005 budget for the war in Iraq - an operation for which his advisers said he could not estimate a cost.
Democrats accused Bush of omitting the cost of operations in Iraq in order to obscure the expense until after the November elections. Some Republicans said it was fiscally irresponsible not to assign a funding level to a war that was bound to be costly.
More recently, lawmakers in both parties have demanded that the White House submit a request for more money for Iraq that could be approved before Congress adjourns for the year. As news of the new $25 billion request reached Democrats, many of them accused the administration again of trying to mask the cost of the war.
"It represents yet another effort to conceal the full costs of meeting the challenge in Iraq until after the election," said Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Congress should withhold the funds until the administration gave a detailed plan of how it would deal with what Byrd called its "stumbling effort in Iraq."
Rep. C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, vowed that Congress would scrutinize the request.
"We will thoroughly vet the request and move it quickly and cleanly through the Congress," Young said. "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 Democratic National Committee released a critical response to the request.
"The troops deserve our full support, but that does not change the fact that this president has a staggering credibility problem on Iraq," said Jano Cabrera, a DNC spokesman.