The New York Times reported Tuesday that George W. Bush has sent a long-awaited supplemental spending bill that will not only finance his Iraq war but also raise military death benefits from $12,000 to $100,000 and increase insurance coverage for the troops from $250,000 to $400,000, with the increases retroactive to October 2001 for those killed in combat zones.[1]  --  Who in Congress is going to vote against that?  --  Once forecast by the administration to cost about $60 billion, then $100 billion to $200 billion, Bush’s war has already cost almost $155 billion (see with no end in sight; the new request was for $81.9 billion, most of it for Iraq.  --  Now, that may sound like a lot, and it’s true that it would take you 2,595 years, 67 days to count to 81,900,000,000, if you counted at the rate of one number per second -- but if all 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq helped you out, together you could “get the job done” in less than six days, eight hours.  --  So it’s not so much after all.  --  Sen. John Kerry announced: “I’m going to vote for this.”[2]  --  AP’s Alan Fram pointed out that the supplemental would be paid for by borrowing[3] -- but neglected to point out that this means adding about an additional 40% in future interest that will be paid out to lenders.  --  “Approval would push the total spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and other efforts against terrorism beyond $300 billion, including the costs of fighting and reconstruction,” Fram wrote.  --  “It stood at about $228 billion before Bush's latest request, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for Congress. . . . The U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which lasted more than a decade when it ended in 1975, cost $623 billion when that era's expenditures are converted to the value of today's dollars, according to the research service.” ...


By Eric Schmmitt

New York Times
February 15, 2005

WASHINGTON -- President Bush sent to Congress on Monday a request for $81.9 billion in additional spending to cover the costs of military and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, tsunami relief in Asia, a revamping of the Army, and new death benefits for families of service members killed in combat.

The White House announced the broad outlines of its request for this year nearly three weeks ago, saying about $75 billion would go to military activities, mostly for the Army. The rest would be devoted to reconstruction costs, mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the activities of the State Department and other agencies, including the new Director of National Intelligence.

But it was not until Monday that the administration gave Congress a detailed wish list, which includes $12 billion to repair or replace tanks, helicopters and other weaponry damaged or destroyed in Afghanistan and Iraq; $5.7 billion to train and equip Iraqi military and police officers, and $5 billion to speed the restructuring of Army brigades.

"The majority of this request will ensure that our troops continue to get what they need to protect themselves and complete their mission," Mr. Bush said in a statement. About $36.3 billion would cover combat missions and about $6.2 billion would go for intelligence operations.

The nonmilitary money requested includes $950 million to help areas affected by the December tsunami in the Indian Ocean; $658 million to help build a United States Embassy in Baghdad; and money for the Darfur region in western Sudan, where a two-year conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead and more than two million displaced.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is to testify this week on the Pentagon's $419.3 billion budget for fiscal 2006, which starts Oct. 1, and on the request for extra funds this year, is expected to face sharp questioning from lawmakers in both parties. Members of Congress have criticized the administration for using the supplemental budget request to finance the war. Supplemental budgets often do not receive as much scrutiny and often do not include the same amount of detail as regular budget requests.

On Capitol Hill, the Blue Dog Coalition, 35 moderate and conservative Democrats known as fiscal and military hawks, criticized the administration's approach for financing the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. "The Blue Dog Coalition recognizes that we must support our troops, but the Congress cannot continue to write blank checks," the group said.

But many Republicans dismissed the complaints. Representative Jerry Lewis, a Californian Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said his panel would begin considering the supplemental request next month, and he expressed hope that Congress could send Mr. Bush a bill by April.

The Pentagon scheduled and then canceled a news conference on Monday to discuss details of the request. The White House later issued a four-page statement citing highlights. Congressional aides provided additional information from the formal detailed request.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said military death benefits would increase to $100,000, from $12,000. Life insurance coverage for the troops would also increase, to $400,000, from $250,000. The increases will be retroactive to October 2001 for those killed in combat zones, she said in a statement.

The request would provide $250.3 million for establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and "other projects, including construction of a new facility to house the O.D.N.I., expanded National Counterterrorism Center, and other intelligence community elements." The document said additional details about the office and intelligence matters were contained in a classified annex.

The request also authorized the Pentagon to provide financing for the establishment of a regional training center in Jordan. "The center will provide counterterrorism, special operations, border control, civil defense, emergency/first responder and other training and preparation for regional security forces," the document said. "The U.S. government would provide funding to construct and outfit the training center; it would subsequently be owned and operated by the government of Jordan."

Also included in the request is $400 million in two funds that will provide economic aid or security assistance to countries "that are fighting with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan but can ill afford the costs of purchasing defense articles and materials," according to Joseph Bowab, a deputy assistant secretary of state for resource management. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will have authority over the spending and decide which countries receive money and how much.

Of the administration's supplemental budget request, $6.3 billion is earmarked for the State Department and foreign operations. Afghanistan will receive $2.2 billion in those State Department funds for counternarcotics programs, reconstruction aid and training for the military police.

Countries involved in seeking peace in the Middle East will be rewarded as well, including $200 million for the Palestinian territories, in addition to the $150 million requested in the 2006 budget, and $200 million for Jordan. The supplemental also includes requests of $780 million for United Nations peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Burundi, Ivory Coast and the Darfur region in Sudan.

As the Bush administration sought more spending for military operations in Iraq, Congressional Democrats held a session on Monday aimed at exposing what they characterized as widespread waste and fraud in the handling of contracts for the reconstruction there.

One former official of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Frank Willis, described a "wild West" atmosphere with lax accounting over billions of American dollars, often packaged in crisp new $100 bills. "There was leakage, no doubt," said Mr. Willis.

--Elizabeth Becker, Carl Hulse and Steven R. Weisman contributed reporting for this article.






February 15, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sen. John Kerry, whose baffling explanation of votes on Iraq war funding hurt his 2004 White House bid, said on Tuesday he would back President Bush's new $81.9 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I think we're in a very different situation," Kerry told reporters. "I'm going to vote for this . . . I think this money is important to our being successful and to the completion of the process."

The Massachusetts senator, who failed in his bid to unseat Bush last November in an election focused on national security, defended his decision to not back the president's previous request to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Mine was the right vote at the time and I wouldn't change it if we went back to that point in time because it was the right vote," Kerry said. "We didn't have a plan and they didn't spend the money correctly."

In October 2003, a year after voting to support the use of force in Iraq, Kerry voted against an $87 billion supplemental funding bill for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did support an unsuccessful alternative bill that funded the $87 billion by cutting some of Bush's tax cuts.

In March last year as the presidential campaign heated up, Kerry provided his Republican opponents with political ammunition when he sought to explain the move by saying: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

"Should we have done a better job, could I have done a better job personally in fighting back on defining that?" Kerry asked. "The answer is yeah."

Kerry said the United States would have made better progress on Iraq, where an insurgency continues to rage almost two years after the March 2003 invasion, if he had been elected. He asserted the Bush administration was only now "trying some of the things" he proposed such as focusing on training Iraqi forces and getting other countries involved.

"I think my security proposals for the country were smack on, dead on," Kerry said.

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



By Alan Fram

** Bush’s $81.9 Billion Request for Iraq, Afghan Wars Face Congressional Questions but Likely O.K. **

Associated Press
February 15, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Democrats are using President Bush's request for $81.9 billion for conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to criticize his war policies and soaring federal deficits, but congressional approval of something very much like his plan seems inevitable.

Bush sent the package to Capitol Hill on Monday. It included money for tsunami aid to battered Indian Ocean countries, new broadcasts aimed at Europe's Muslims, and offices for the newly created director of national intelligence.

Of the total, the White House said $77 billion was directly related to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of that $74.9 billion would go to the Defense Department, with the State Department getting most of the rest to build and staff a new embassy in Baghdad.

Bush said the additional money for the remainder of the 2005 budget year would help Iraq and Afghanistan pursue "the path of democracy and freedom." He said the funds would help protect U.S. troops, track down terrorists and enhance Middle East peace prospects.

Democrats said the proposal did little to correct the problems surrounding the U.S. effort in Iraq, where national elections were held last month amid a relentless insurgency that has slowed reconstruction efforts.

"This supplemental request provides support for our men and women in uniform, but it provides little basis for optimism for a stable and secure Iraq," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., one of the president's most persistent war critics.

Democrats also said the request, which Bush wants to be financed through borrowing, underscores the budget's problems.

The $2.57 trillion budget Bush sent Congress last week projected a record $427 billion deficit this year and $390 billion in red ink in 2006. While it included Bush's latest request, the budget omitted any new war funds next year, which are considered certain to be needed.

"It's going to get bigger," Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said of the shortfall.

The new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said he hoped to ship the bill to Bush's desk by early April. But he added, "Congress will exercise our constitutional obligations" code words for the likelihood that some changes will be made.

Approval would push the total spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and other efforts against terrorism beyond $300 billion, including the costs of fighting and reconstruction. It stood at about $228 billion before Bush's latest request, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for Congress.

Congress gave Bush a $25 billion down payment last summer for this year's costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which lasted more than a decade when it ended in 1975, cost $623 billion when that era's expenditures are converted to the value of today's dollars, according to the research service.

The request spotlighted how the growing costs of war and reconstruction have exceeded initial administration characterizations. White House officials derided former Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey's early estimate of a $100 billion to $200 billion price tag.

Some $12 billion was requested to replace or repair worn-out and damaged equipment, including $3.3 billion for extra armor for trucks and other protective gear highlighting a sensitivity to earlier complaints by troops.

There was money for more generous death benefits for the families of slain American soldiers, to improve troops' health coverage and bonuses for staying in the reserves. Many U.S. troops have been forced to serve prolonged periods in Iraq.

In addition, there was $5.7 billion to train Iraqi forces and $1.3 billion to train Afghan security agencies. Another $5 billion was for the Army to redesign many of its own combat brigades to make them more flexible and less reliant on other units.

Bush requested $658 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Iraq that could house a staff of 1,000, plus $717 million to staff it. He wants $4.8 million to enhance U.S.-backed broadcasting to Arabs, including new television broadcasts aimed at Muslims living in Europe, and $250 million to build offices for the director of national intelligence and for other intelligence costs.

Afghanistan would get almost $2 billion more for its own reconstruction, including money to build roads and schools, combat illegal drugs and prepare for parliamentary elections.

There was money for other U.S. allies, including $150 million for Pakistan, $300 million for Jordan and $60 million for the Ukraine. The Palestinians engaged in a new peace effort with Israel would get $200 million for economic development and to help them create democratic institutions.

One possible flashpoint with Congress was two $200 million funds the State Department would control to provide economic and security aid to unspecified U.S. allies.

A total of $950 million would be provided for the tsunami-damaged Indian Ocean countries, including $350 million to replenish U.S. accounts tapped earlier for initial tsunami aid.

Also requested was $242 million for aid for Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region.