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More money sought for wars

WASHINGTON – The White House said Thursday that it will ask Congress to approve $70 billion in additional spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2006, bringing the overall costs of those conflicts to nearly $400 billion by the end of the budget year in September.

In addition, President Bush will request a place-holding $50 billion for the wars in the new 2007 spending plan that the White House will unveil Monday.

But, like the $50 billion that the White House initially included for war in this year’s budget, the Office of Management and Budget maintains that the real cost for 2007, dictated by “events on the ground,” is impossible to forecast.

The request for more money came on a day when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned against underestimating the global terrorist threat. “The enemy – while weakened and under great pressure – is still capable of global reach, still possesses the determination to kill more Americans, and is still trying to do so with increasingly powerful weapons,” Rumsfeld said at the National Press Club in Washington.

The cost of the war in Iraq is clearly surpassing anyone’s early estimates, including those of the administration. Bush aide Lawrence Lindsey suggested in 2002 that a war in Iraq could cost as much as $200 billion, an estimate considered so high – and so impolitic – it helped lead to his ouster from the administration.

Thursday’s announcement of a request for a supplemental $70 billion means the wars will cost about $120 billion for the 2006 budget year, the same as their cost in fiscal 2005.

“We think we will again need a $50 billion bridge (for ‘07), so we are identifying that,” said Joel Kaplan, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a conference call with reporters. “It is a bridge. It is not meant to be an estimate of what the ‘07 fiscal year costs will be. … That will be determined by events on the ground.”

Last month, the White House warned that war expenses and the cost of recovery from Hurricane Katrina would contribute to a federal budget deficit for 2006 that exceeded $400 billion. The White House promises a specific projection of the budget deficit next week. The record deficit, $412 billion, occurred in 2004.

The cost of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, rebuilding in those countries and running the U.S. embassies there already has run to about $320 billion since the beginning of the wars, according to the Pentagon. The new $70 billion request would bring the total cost to at least $390 billion by the time the fiscal year ends in September. That’s a war cost of more than $1,250 for every American.

With low-balled estimates of the war’s costs included in the president’s annual budgets and significantly higher supplemental budgets sought each year, congressional Democrats accuse the administration of misleading Congress and the public about the war’s true costs.

On Thursday, the Associated Press said officials and documents indicated that the Defense Department budget for 2007 would be $439.3 billion, a nearly 5 percent increase over this year.

White House chief economic adviser Allan Hubbard maintains that despite the Katrina and war spending, Bush still will be able to keep his re-election campaign promise of cutting the budget deficit in half by 2009.