Alan Fram / Associated Press – 2004-06-02 08:59:24
WASHINGTON (June 1, 2004) — Even by Washington standards, the $119.4 billion that President Bush and Congress have provided for the first two years of the war in Iraq is real money.
Though a tiny fraction of overall federal spending, the figure is huge in other ways. It dwarfs the $100 million that could hire 2,500 more airport security screeners,the $500 million that could add 69,400 more children to Head Start, the $1 billion that would let 160,000 more low-income families keep federal rent subsidies, Senate Democrats say. Or it could reduce the runaway federal deficit.
The $119.4 billion total, compiled by the White House Office of Management and Budget, is the administration’s most comprehensive tally of the war’s financial costs so far. Of the total, $97.2 billion has been for military operations, $21.2 billion for rebuilding Iraq’s economy and government, and $1 billion for U.S. administrative expenses there.
Congress approved the money over the past year-and-a-half with overwhelming votes, and few lawmakers doubt its need. But many of them say it soaks up dollars that other parts of the $2.4 trillion budget could use, from education initiatives to tax cuts and more.
”When you integrate Iraqi spending, which is necessary, with the effort to control spending, it puts more pressure on you to make harder choices,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. ”If you can name one part of government immune from this, I’d like to know.”
If not used for war, the money could take a healthy bite out of the government’s runaway annual deficits, which are expected to set a record this year exceeding $400 billion. The $119.4 billion is four times this year’s federal spending for biomedical research, 14times what Washington will spend to clean the environment, 26 times the FBI’s budget.
Costs Equal to $4,776 for Every Iraqi
The total would also be enough to hand every Iraqi a check for $4,776 about eight times that country’s average income.
Lawrence Lindsey, then the White House economic adviser, estimated before the Iraq war that it could cost $100 billion to $200 billion. Other administration officials called the figure far too large and argued that Iraq’s oil revenues would let the country largely rebuild itself.
Instead, Lindsey’s estimate has proven prophetic. In an interview last week, White House deputy budget chief Joel Kaplan blamed the war’s costs on ”unanticipated events” like the bad condition of Iraq’s infrastructure and the prolonged violent resistance.
The Congressional Research Service, which provides nonpartisan analyses for lawmakers, has calculated Iraq costs for the first two years at $121.8 billion, using higher defense figures than the administration. Either way, the number will grow dramatically in the near future.
Another $50 Billion Needed for 2005
Bush has already requested an additional $25 billion for the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, with the bulk of the money headed to Iraq. Administration officials have said they expect to eventually seek more than $50 billion for 2005.
Others use higher numbers. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of a subcommittee that controls the Pentagon’s budget, says he expects the 2005 price tag to be $75 billion. Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, puts the figure as high as $80 billion.
By the time the final Iraq figure for 2005 is in, American spending there could easily exceed $160 billion for 2003 through 2005. That would nearly double the combined costs in today’s dollars of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
Over the longer run, it’s anybody’s guess because of uncertainties over Iraq’s stability and the revenue that may be generated by the country’s damaged oil industry.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it could cost up to $29 billion annually to keep 129,000 US troops in Iraq, about the number there now. The United Nations and World Bank have estimated $55 billion in rebuilding costs through 2007.
Protecting the (Iraqi) Homeland
”The president has been clear since the attacks of 9/11 that winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland, was in fact his highest priority,” said the White House’s Kaplan. ”So that’s where he has focused our resources” along with trying to strengthen the economy.
Kaplan would not speculate on how Bush’s budget would be different with no war in Iraq, saying of the conflict, ”That’s the world the president has had to deal with.”
Even so, many in Congress say they wish the money were available for other items, with most lawmakers of both parties citing deficit reduction as a primary potential use.
”The economic pressures on this country will be so severe by 2011,” when the baby boom generation starts retiring, ”that right now we need to be making fiscally responsible decisions,” said Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, a longtime advocate of controlling annual budget deficits.
Many Democrats also suggested various spending initiatives.
”I’d have the money going to urban districts, to rural districts where class sizes are too big, where buildings are dilapidated,” said Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J.
While some Republicans said they would also favor more spending for highways and other initiatives, others were more prone to tax cuts and not spending the money.
”I’d say let’s have a smaller deficit. But most of all, don’t spend it on something else. The non-defense, non-security part of the budget is out of control,” said Rep. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.
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