WASHINGTON -- The White House said yesterday that it plans to ask Congress for an additional $70 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving the cost of military operations in the two countries to $120 billion this year, the highest since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The bulk of the new money would go to pay for the war in Iraq, which already has cost an estimated $250 billion since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. The additional spending, along with other war funds the Bush administration will seek separately in its regular budget next week, would push the price tag for combat and nation building since Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly a half-trillion dollars - approaching the cost of the 13-year Vietnam War.
Congress has granted the administration all its previous requests for war funds, and this one is expected to be no different. But budget analysts said the size of the newest request could make it more difficult for the Bush administration to get any more tax cuts through Congress this year. The estimated cost of military operations in 2006 is $35 billion higher than what Congress had estimated the Defense Department would need this year a few months ago.
The higher costs are occurring even as the Pentagon is planning to reduce troop levels in Iraq in the coming months, reflecting the continuing wear and damage to military vehicles and equipment in desert combat, the need to upgrade protection for U.S. soldiers, and the effort to train and equip Iraqi forces.
The costs also contrast with projections before the war. Former White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey predicted in late 2002 that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion, drawing the administration's ire and leading to his ouster.
"People in the White House said [Lindsey] was way off," said Steven Kosiak, a budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent defense research group in Washington. "It turns out he was. But just not in the direction they thought."
In the spring of 2003, top administration officials, including then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, said that Iraq's vast oil reserves would help defray the costs of an extended U.S. occupation. Nearly three years later, oil revenues are far below expectations and the Iraqi government is able to pay for only a small fraction of the reconstruction.
The White House also told Congress yesterday that it will ask for $18 billion in supplemental funds for Hurricane Katrina relief - bringing to $105 billion the amount the administration plans to spend on relief and rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.
Donald Powell, federal coordinator for Katrina recovery, did not specify how the funds will be spent. Aides said they will be releasing details within the next few weeks. Democrats on the Hill were quick to question how the funds would be allocated.
Mark Mazzetti and Joel Havemann write for the Los Angeles Times.