Bush seeks $200 billion more for war

WASHINGTON – After smothering efforts by war critics in Congress to cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq drastically, President Bush plans to ask lawmakers next week to approve another massive spending measure – totaling nearly $200 billion – to fund the war through 2008, Pentagon officials said.

If Bush’s spending request is approved, 2008 will be the most expensive year of the Iraq war.

U.S. war costs have continued to grow because of the additional combat forces sent to Iraq in 2007 and because of efforts to ramp up production of new technology, like mine-resistant trucks designed to protect troops from roadside bombs. The new trucks can cost three to six times as much as an armored Humvee.

The Bush administration said earlier this year that it probably would need $147.5 billion for 2008, but Pentagon officials say that and $47 billion more will be required. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials will formally present the full request at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday.

The funding request means war costs are projected to grow even as the number of deployed combat troops begins a gradual decline starting in December. Spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will rise from $173 billion this year to about $195 billion in fiscal 2008, beginning Oct. 1. When costs of CIA operations and embassy expenses are added, the war in Iraq currently costs taxpayers about $12 billion a month, said Winslow Wheeler, a former Republican congressional budget aide who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

“Everybody predicts declines, but they haven’t occurred, and 2008 will be higher than 2007,” said Wheeler. “It all depends on what happens in Iraq, but thus far it has continued to get bloodier and more expensive. Everyone says we are going to turn the corner here, but the corner has not been turned.”

In 2004, the two conflicts together cost $94 billion; in 2005, they cost $108 billion; in 2006, $122 billion.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both are financed through a single administration request to Congress and their costs are combined in the legislation. But the new spending request is likely to push the cumulative cost of the war in Iraq alone through 2008 past the $600 billion mark – more than the Korean War and nearly as much as the Vietnam War, based on estimates by government budget officials.

After the defeat this week of Democratic proposals to force faster troop withdrawals from Iraq, the new funding request presents a potential target for war critics on Capitol Hill.

“Now that we have a Democratic Congress and the war is less popular and we are not talking about $100 billion a year, but $200 billion a year – some of which is not directly war related – the question is whether the Congress will slim it down,” said Steven Kosiak, vice president at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

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