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Reuters February 14, 2005

Bush Sending $82 Bln War Spending Plan to Congress

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush sent Congress on Monday an $82 billion package to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pushing the total bill for both conflicts to nearly $300 billion and the budget deficit to a record high.

The emergency request includes $74.9 billion for the Defense Department. The rest will be used to boost aid to the Palestinians, to reward war on terrorism allies Pakistan and Poland, and to fund reconstruction efforts in Asian nations devastated by the December tsunami.

"I urge the Congress to move quickly," Bush said.

The major initiatives in the package include:

* $5.7 billion to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces to combat a deadly insurgency that continues almost two years after the 2003 invasion. Bush said the extra money is so Iraqis "can assume greater responsibility for their own security and our troops can return home," though he set no timetable.

* $2 billion to combat the drug trade and boost reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

* $660 million for construction of a U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad.

* $950 million to cover the cost of humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts in Asian nations devastated by December's tsunami, a $600 million increase.

* $400 million in aid to nations that have sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, rewarding them for taking "political and economic risks."

* $200 million in aid for the Palestinians. Bush has promised another $150 million in his fiscal 2006 budget. Officials left open the possibility of providing a portion of the aid directly to the Palestinian Authority.

* $60 million to aid Ukraine and its new president.

Bush's $82 billion request will push funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to a record $105 billion for fiscal year 2005 alone, including $25 billion in emergency spending already approved.

The new money will supplement the Pentagon budget, which totals more than $400 billion.

At nearly $300 billion, the total for Iraq and Afghanistan is almost half what the United States spent for the entire Vietnam War, in 2005 dollars.

The request is expected to be approved by lawmakers despite concerns in the U.S. Congress about record federal budget deficits.

The White House acknowledged that the $82 billion request would push the federal deficit to a record $427 billion this year alone, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We don't know what the cost will be going forward in Iraq and Afghanistan. That ... to a large extent, depends on circumstances on the ground."

A group of moderate and conservative Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition said in a statement they recognize "we must support our troops but the Congress cannot continue to write blank checks."

Asked whether the $82 billion would be enough, John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said: "It really depends on ... whether the insurgency grows or whether we've managed to contain it."

Before the invasion, then-White House budget director Mitch Daniels had predicted Iraq would be "an affordable endeavor," and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz assured Congress: "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."

No funds for ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan operations were included in the $2.57 trillion budget Bush submitted to Congress a week ago. (Additional reporting by Anna Willard, Andrea Shalal-Esa, Deborah Zabarenko and Steve Holland)


Copyright 2005, Reuters