WASHINGTON President Bush will request $70 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he presents his fiscal 2009 budget to Congress next week, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The money is an "emergency allowance" to bankroll the military in these conflicts and the global war on terror during the first part of the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, Whitman told reporters at the Pentagon Monday.
The Pentagon will request $515.4 billion for its base budget, $35.3 billion 7.3 percent more than the $480.1 billion Congress appropriated for fiscal 2008, according to three government officials. The $70 billion would be extra.
War costs are running about $12 billion a month, of which about $9.2 billion is for Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said Monday. Whitman said the $70 billion should cover costs until a new administration takes over in January 2009. Whitman declined to comment on the base budget.
Debate over Bush's fiscal 2008 war spending requests totaling $190 billion delayed passage of the defense budget. Congress has approved about $86 billion so far and Democrats, who have majorities in both chambers, have not said when they'll approve the remaining $104 billion, said Steve Daggett, an analyst for Congressional Research Service.
In addition to the Defense Department's base budget, Congress has approved about $627 billion extra for the military since the Sept. 11 attacks, CRS analyst Amy Belasco reported Dec. 12. In addition to financing the wars, this spending has covered Iraq reconstruction, base security, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans' health care.
Of this total, about $465 billion, or 74 percent, is for operations in Iraq, CRS estimated.
Congress in recent years has demanded the administration's war-funding request cover the entire fiscal year, yet lawmakers themselves "still have not fully funded the war for 2008," Sean M. Kevelighan, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters Monday.
The White House also wants to await war assessments by the military, including one due in March or April by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, before asking Congress for more money, he said.
Sen. Judd Gregg, the top Republican on the chamber's budget committee, urged the administration to "fully fund" the war in its annual budget request, saying it would be "irresponsible" and "inappropriate" to omit expected costs.
"We know that it's not going to be $70 billion," Gregg said in an interview. "They should fully fund the war, what they presume the costs will be, so that we can have transparency on those costs and can discuss them in an intelligent and thoughtful way."
Requesting only part of the money would allow the administration to project a smaller deficit for fiscal 2009, according to Brian Reidl, a budget expert at the Heritage Foundation, a research institute in Washington.
"Budget and deficit projections are useful only if they realistically include all expected policies," he said. "Excluding expected war costs may lower deficit projections, but the inevitable costs will still come and render those projections obsolete."
The $35.3 billion increase in the base budget7.3 percent before inflationwas expected and contrasts with the jump of 11 percent between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008, Daggett said.
"The 2007 to 2008 increase was substantial; the 2008 to 2009 is modest," Daggett said. Increases in the projected budgets after 2009 are minimal, he said.
Steve Kosiak, a budget analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said that "without knowing what the administration is going to end up asking" for in war spending for all of fiscal 2009, "it is not clear that any of these figures for the base budget are very meaningful."