Democrats in Congress are making clear they intend to subject President Bush's request for $87 billion in new money for Iraq to extensive scrutiny. As administration officials explain what they say is their clear plan for stabilizing Iraq, Democrats are expressing concern that the U.S. involvement in Iraq may be longer and more expensive than the administration expects.
John Spratt, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, says by the end of the current fiscal year on September 30 costs associated with Iraq will be about 56-billion dollars. That's based on President Bush's first war-time budget request approved by Congress earlier this year.
Congressman Spratt says that of the current $87 billion request, and leaving out money earmarked for Afghanistan, another $71 billion would go to Iraq, raising the total figure to about $128 billion by the end of the 2004 fiscal year.
However, he says estimates must also take into account interest likely to accrue in the next ten years. This, he says, will add another $50 billion, effectively boosting costs to about $178 billion by the end of 2004.
All of this assumes the United States is able to substantially reduce its troop presence in Iraq or withdraw completely by next year.
Much more likely, Democrats say, is that U.S. forces will remain much longer. In that case, Congressman Spratt says, costs could escalate to $238 billion in 2006, $309 billion by 2008. However, he says there is an even worse scenario in which U.S. forces become "mired down" in Iraq until 2010.
"Since we are there longer, that's the assumption, it's reasonable to assume we will probably have to pump more money into the economy, do more to get the economy up on its feet and stabilized, in that event there will be more money for reconstruction costs, we're assuming here we pick up almost 70 percent of the total reconstruction costs," says Mr. Spratt. "In all of those worst-case assumptions, when all those are combined the total cost would come, with interest over the next ten years, to $418 billion."
After President Bush's speech Tuesday to the United Nations, Republican leaders in the House and Senate lined up behind the president. House speaker (Republican) Dennis Hastert said Mr. Bush did in Iraq what the United Nations couldn't do, enforce 17 U.N. resolutions "casually disregarded" by Saddam Hussein.
Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said Mr. Bush, in his words, gave governments of many nations "the means to redeem their pledges to fight terrorism and promote global security."
Democrats say they won't oppose money needed to support U.S. troops in Iraq, or Afghanistan. But they are busy preparing hard questions for key administration officials.
Senate minority leader Tom Daschle signals that opposition is likely to center on the $21 billion or so the president has requested for Iraqi reconstruction and security. "We just turned down $292 million for Indian health care in this country. We were told we can't afford it, we don't have the resources," says Mr. Daschle. "And yet he is now asking for health care for the Iraqi people. He's asking for education for the Iraqi children. He's asking for money for Iraqi highway construction. Yet, in all those cases, he's telling the American people there isn't enough money for education, there isn't enough money for highway bills, there isn't enough money for health care."
Mr. Daschle, and another Senate Democrat, Byron Dorgan, say the administration is not doing enough to make Iraqi oil reserves and future production help pay for reconstruction and debts Iraq owes to Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries.
"Money that has been requested is necessary. But I believe the construct of the reconstruction in Iraq, and the payment for that reconstruction should not be a burden on the shoulders of the American taxpayer," says Mr. Dorgan. "Not taxpayers who are paying more than double the rate the top taxpayers in Iraq will be asked to bear, and not taxpayers who should pay taxes so that Iraqi oil wells can pump oil to send money to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. What a perverse result that would be!"
The chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has told lawmakers this week it is vital that Congress approve all of the money President Bush requested, saying failure to do so would risk Iraq becoming a haven for terrorists.
However, a number of House lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require President Bush to give Congress more detailed plans for Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, and impose more stringent requirements before new funds are approved.