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US Congress Presses Bush on Cost of War with Iraq - 2003-02-27

There are increasing demands in Congress for the Bush administration to give specifics about the cost of a potential war with Iraq. President Bush's budget for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins in October, did not include an estimate of the cost of possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq, or the money that will be needed for reconstruction and peacekeeping needs.

Costs of a war based on estimates by a number of administration and defense officials in recent weeks have ranged between $60 billion and $95 billion.

Many lawmakers, principally opposition Democrats, are stepping up their criticism, accusing the administration of delaying to avoid public backlash amid concern about mounting budget deficits and economic strain.

"Even a rudimentary list of the possible contingencies, shows that costs may grossly exceed what the administration wants the public to believe," says Robert Byrd, Senator from West Virginia.

President Bush is due to submit what is called a "supplemental request" to Congress. At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer faced more tough questioning about when that request will be ready. "At the appropriate time, and if the President makes a determination to use force, a request for the funding will, of course, be sent up to the Congress," said Mr. Fleischer. "And then it will be based on the latest information that is available. It is too soon to be able to have any type of reliable number to indicate right now."

Whether or not the president authorizes use of military force, said Mr. Fleischer, Mr. Bush will remain committed to domestic spending priorities he has put forward.

Congressional budget planners say they expect an Iraq war request to include funds for additional assistance to key U.S. allies such as Turkey and Israel, as well as Jordan, above 2003 foreign aid levels. However, Mr. Fleischer indicated the request would be limited to the costs of actual war in Iraq, including humanitarian needs.

The new congressional criticism came as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held a closed-door briefing for members of Congress. Some more illumination could come Thursday when Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz testifies before the House budget committee.

House Democrats introduced a resolution Wednesday to require the president to submit a report to Congress before approving any military action in Iraq, including an estimate of the war and reconstruction.

However, efforts by Democrats in the House and Senate to force the President to return to the Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, for another vote before deciding on use of force in Iraq are not given much chance of success.