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Battle looms over bill for wars

Republican support could be key in plans to cover tab

Paul Kane Washington Post

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s decision to send more than 30,000 troops to Afghanistan ensures what was already inevitable: The cost of the wars in that country and Iraq are about to exceed $1 trillion. Less certain for Congress is how to pay for it.

The new Afghan strategy will cost at least $30 billion more than current spending, and Democrats were divided Tuesday on what to do. Key leaders rejected a proposal from liberal members to impose a “war tax” that would hit workers earning as little as $30,000 year but also offered no plan of their own on how to go forward.

Before leaving for West Point, Obama huddled with about 30 top lawmakers from both parties at the White House, winning support from key Republicans for the new strategy. “Republicans are going to be supportive of funding for these troops,” Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said after the meeting.

But Lewis rejected any calls for increased taxes and instead urged Obama to pare back money to federal agencies, many of which are slated to receive double-digit increases in funding for fiscal year 2010. Other Republicans called for using unspent stimulus funds.

GOP support could be critical to the new strategy’s success on Capitol Hill, where overall cost concerns have grown in the run-up to Obama’s announcement. Congress is just days away from approving the annual Pentagon spending bill, which already includes about $130 billion in annual funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once that bill is approved, the Pentagon’s total tab for the two wars will come to more than $1 trillion since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Just a third of those funds have gone to the Afghan front, but that region is quickly becoming the most expensive battleground.

If the new funding is approved, the total cost for next year’s operations in Afghanistan will come to about $100 billion.

That’s up from $43 billion for fiscal 2008 and $55 billion for fiscal 2009, according to CRS.

Obama’s new proposal would place more than 200,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. If troop levels remain at an average of 75,000 through the next decade, it will cost another $867 billion for the operations in the two countries – more than the $848 billion health care legislation the Senate is considering.

While Congress has waged extended fights in previous years over paying for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan with supplemental funding legislation, more recently the costs have been included in annual defense budget requests. Obama’s troop request is not included in the Pentagon’s budget, which appears likely to open a new round of debate over funding.

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