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WAR WITH IRAQ

Bush to Seek $75 Billion to Fight War, Terrorism

Emergency measure is expected to sail through Congress, but also to intensify the debate over the president's tax-cut proposal.

March 25, 2003|Richard Simon and Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Bush plans to ask Congress for nearly $75 billion to pay for the war against Iraq, strengthening antiterrorism defenses at home and other related costs, the White House said Monday.

The spending measure would cover these expenses to the end of this fiscal year -- Sept. 30 -- according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday.

Experts noted that the emergency spending request for the war and its aftermath could grow, given the uncertain nature of military combat.

And some lawmakers already have signaled that they want to add money to the bill, such as providing more funds for homeland security and aid to the struggling airline industry.

Although the White House request is expected to win speedy approval, it is certain to intensify the debate over whether lawmakers also should approve the president's $725-billion tax-cut proposal at a time of record budget deficits.

Bush is scheduled to formally unveil his spending request today in a speech at the Pentagon. At a Monday meeting with key lawmakers, Bush expressed his hope that Congress would exercise restraint and avoid extra spending.

The spending request assumes a "short, highly intense period of conflict," added a Pentagon official. But this official also said there remain too many unknowns to specify a duration for the war.

The request calls for:

* About $63 billion for military operations, including the cost of deploying troops to the region, sustaining them and the start of bringing them home. This cost also includes replenishing munitions used in the war.

* About $8 billion for international aid, including $2.5 billion for humanitarian relief and post-war reconstruction in Iraq. Also included in this request is aid to countries such as Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Colombia.

* About $4 billion for homeland defense. Half would go to states and localities, mostly in grants. The biggest federal recipient would be the Justice Department, designated to receive about $500 million, with most of it going to the FBI.

The senior administration official said it would have cost $30 billion for the buildup of troops in the Persian Gulf region and then bringing them home if war had not occurred.

He said that if estimates hold, the cost of this war could turn out to be "slightly less" than the Persian Gulf War, which cost about $80 billion in today's dollars. Of that amount, the U.S. spent only $9 billion, with coalition partners picking up the rest.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he expects to move the emergency spending measure through quickly.

The White House hopes Congress will pass the measure by April 11.

But the request could complicate Bush's push for $725 billion in tax cuts, which he has proposed to stimulate the economy. The plan's main element would eliminate taxes on dividend payments.

"Up until now, the war costs have been an abstraction," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group. "As of today, however, the costs of war are real. Tax-cut proponents are going to have a harder time explaining why eliminating the ... taxation of dividends is so important that it can't wait until we've finished the war."

Democrats have been assailing the White House for pursuing a tax cut without knowing the ultimate cost of the war.

The Senate voted Friday to take $100 billion from Bush's tax-cut proposal to help pay for the military operation. But the House passed a budget resolution last week that would make room for Bush's entire economic stimulus plan.

The war cost has been a hot topic in Washington since last fall, when former White House economic advisor Lawrence B. Lindsey estimated that the conflict's costs could run between $100 billion and $200 billion

Until Monday, the president and his top aides had steadfastly refused to put a price tag on the war.

Bush in recent weeks also has sought to recast the debate. At his news conference this month, he said the benefits of a successful war in Iraq would be "immeasurable"-- not only for Iraqis but for much of the world.

"How do you measure the benefit of freedom in Iraq?" he asked. "How do you measure the consequences of taking a dictator out of power who has tried to invade Kuwait? Or somebody who may some day decide to lob a weapon of mass destruction on Israel? How would you weigh the cost of that? Those are immeasurable costs."

Some in Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- are expected to seek to increase the emergency spending package.

Hastert, for example, wants to add aid for the struggling airlines, including United, whose main offices are in his state. He hasn't specified an amount, but Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, has introduced a measure to provide $4 billion to $5 billion to the airlines.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress approved a $15-billion airline rescue package, including $5 billion in cash and $10 billion in loan guarantees.

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