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Lawmakers Criticize Bush Over Iraq Costs - 2003-07-29

Bush administration officials Tuesday came under sharp criticism from bipartisan lawmakers for not being more forthcoming on the costs of rebuilding Iraq and for overstating that country's connections to terrorist groups.

White House budget director Joshua Bolten told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the cost of the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq would be about $4 billion a month for the next few months. But he would not estimate the cost beyond that because he said the situation is too fluid.

That provoked an angry response from the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. "Oh, come on now. Does anybody here think we are going to be down below 100,000 forces in the next calendar year? Raise your hand, anyone of you," he said. "You know it is going to be more than that, you know at least it is going to be $2.5 billion a month. Give me a break, will you? When are you guys going to start being honest with us?"

Mr. Biden urged the Bush administration to make clear to the American people the rebuilding of Iraq will cost them tens of billions of dollars and will require an extended U.S. military occupation.

The chairman of the committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, agreed, saying "failure to do this is going to lead us, I believe, to a lot of partisan haggling, bad surprises, whoever is present coming up with [budget] supplementals, running out of money unexpectedly. It was not unexpected. All of this was fully expected."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the administration would send Congress a supplemental funding request in time. "There will be a supplemental request when we think we can make a reasonably good estimate of what will get us through the whole year, so we will not have to keep coming up here with one supplemental request after the other," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz called Iraq the central battleground in the war on terrorism, and said the United States would be more secure when it completes its mission in Iraq.

But some lawmakers accused him of exaggerating Iraq's ties to terror groups, including al-Qaeda, which the administration says was behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said "there have been allegations that this will help with our war on terrorism. We just haven't seen the proof of the linkage between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda."

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin agreed saying "this administration has grossly exaggerated the connection between the war on terrorism and the Iraq situation."

Mr. Wolfowitz, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq, said the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is making progress in restoring order and basic services.