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Bush's $87-Billion Request Detailed

Most of the funding sought by the White House would go to Iraq military operations.

September 18, 2003|Esther Schrader and Janet Hook | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration detailed to Congress for the first time Wednesday its request for $87 billion in additional funding for U.S. military operations and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, amid growing criticism by Democrats of the handling of the Iraq war and its aftermath.

The White House request -- which is mostly for military operations -- would cover $20 billion of the estimated $50 billion to $75 billion Iraq would need for reconstruction over the next four years, according to documents forwarded to Congress.

A senior administration official said the plan is for Iraq to contribute $5 billion a year starting in 2005 from hoped-for surplus oil revenues, but acknowledged that the oil infrastructure needs significant rebuilding.

The official said Washington would try to persuade other rich nations and international lending agencies to contribute $30 billion to $55 billion to fill the gap. The official, who asked not to be named, conceded that the job of persuading wary allies is "not going to be easy."

The $87 billion is intended to last for 12 to 15 months. Military operations, which account for about 75% of the request, cost about $4 billion a month in Iraq.

Bush's package is expected to win congressional approval despite concerns raised by Democrats, some Republicans and public polls.

On Capitol Hill, members of both parties said they expected virtually no resistance over the money requested for U.S. military operations.

But members of Bush's own party are raising questions about the $20 billion in reconstruction aid, and some want Iraq to eventually repay some of the money.

The Senate will kick off formal scrutiny of the bill Monday, when the Appropriations Committee plans a hearing at which L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator in Iraq, and Army Gen. John Abizaid, the military commander, are expected to testify.

Both the House and Senate are hoping to finish work on the bill and send it to the president by mid-October.

Hoping to smooth the way for quick action, the director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, Joshua Bolton, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz late Wednesday gave a closed-door briefing to Senate Republicans and House GOP leaders.

Republicans were mostly supportive, but many -- including senior members of the party leadership -- said they wanted the bill to include assurances that some of the reconstruction money would be paid back.

"What everybody here is looking for here is equity and fairness," said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). "Many of us feel there should be some way some of that money could be paid back."

Democrats, meanwhile, launched new lines of attack against the administration's Iraq policy, even as they acknowledged the budget request would eventually be approved.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), saying it is irresponsible to add to a $500-billion federal deficit, proposed offsetting the $87 billion by raising income tax rates on the wealthiest. Biden called for rescinding the cut in the highest income bracket.

Bush's plan includes $66 billion for military and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that, $51 billion is for military operations in Iraq.

The $20 billion the administration is seeking for reconstruction efforts includes $3.71 billion for public works, $875 million for rehabilitation of irrigation systems and restoration of marshlands, $470 million for construction of houses and public buildings and repair and reconstruction of roads and bridges, and $835 million for transportation and telecommunications.

In addition to money for Iraq, Bush's package includes $11 billion for military operations in Afghanistan and $800 million for reconstruction efforts.

Before the war, Wolfowitz said the cost of rebuilding Iraq could range from $10 billion to $100 billion.

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