Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush breaks promise, requests US$25bn

`INSURANCE POLICY' Poor progress in Iraq and pressure from Republicans forced the US president to change tack and ask Congress for US$25 billion

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Iraqis look through a shattered window in downtown Baghdad following an explosion on a busy commercial avenue on the east bank of the Tigris River yesterday. In a separate incident yesterday, a suicide car bomb exploded near a checkpoint to the main complex housing US administrative offices in central Baghdad, killing at least five Iraqi civilians and one US soldier.

PHOTO: AP

US President George W. Bush on Wednesday asked Congress for an additional US$25 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, breaking a pledge not to seek more money before the November election.

The White House had long insisted it would not need extra money until next year, but the surge in violence in Iraq and pressure from fellow Republicans forced Bush to reverse course. If approved by Congress as expected, the proposed US$25 billion "contingency reserve fund" would become available to the Pentagon from Oct. 1, the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year.

"Recent developments on the ground and increased demands on our troops indicate the need to plan for contingencies. We must make sure there is no disruption in funding and resources for our troops," Bush said in a statement.

White House budget director Joshua Bolten briefed top Republican lawmakers on Wednesday on the US$25-billion plan, which a senior administration official compared to an "insurance policy" that would only be tapped if needed to avoid funding disruptions.

The new money would come on top of US$160 billion in Bush's two previous spending bills for Iraq and Afghanistan, and officials said far more money would be needed next year.

"This is not money for Iraq, this is money for our troops, this is supporting our troops. Nobody is going to have any problem with that," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican, told reporters.

"Frankly, I think this money won't be enough, but it will be enough to get us through until the administration requests a major supplemental," added House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, a Republican.

Officials said the US$25 billion should tide the Pentagon over from Oct. 1 through next January or February, when the White House is expected to request another US$50 billion or more for the troops. A senior administration official said the size of the next supplemental would depend on how much of the US$25-billion reserve fund is spent.

Critics accused the White House of hiding the true cost of the war by not asking for money it knew would be necessary.

"The Bush administration essentially said `read my lips -- no extra money for Iraq,'" said Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg. "Now we see that pledge was false."

"By requesting just US$25 billion in additional money for our troops in Iraq -- when we know that at least twice that amount will be needed -- the Bush administration is once again keeping the true cost of the war from the American people," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Before the war, then-White House budget director Mitch Daniels predicted Iraq would be "an affordable endeavor," and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz even assured Congress: "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."

The White House denied misleading the public, and a senior administration official played down the impact on the US$500-billion-plus budget deficit "because it's not necessarily clear that this reserve will be spent."

The new request comes one day after the Pentagon, faced with growing military casualties in Iraq, said it was scrapping a plan to reduce its forces and would keep about 138,000 troops there to at least the end of 2005.

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