Administration to request $25 billion military supplemental

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Wednesday promised strong congressional support and approval for an impending Bush administration request of $25 billion in fiscal 2005 funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., also predicted the measure would pass before the end of the current fiscal year, but added that appropriators would "thoroughly vet" the request. "We will insist on accountability for the expenditure of these funds" and ask for consultation on future costs, he said.

The White House informed congressional Republican leaders Wednesday that it intends to seek $25 billion in additional 2005 funds for Iraq and Afghanistan, a move Democrats claimed they first learned about from the news media.

Lawmakers and aides said they expect a vigorous debate in the coming weeks -- particularly about holding the administration accountable for how the money is spent in the wake of revelations that the White House shifted post-Sept. 11, 2001, anti-terrorism funds to prepare for war in Iraq.

The $25 billion is meant to serve as a contingency fund for the Pentagon to use in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, while the administration draws up plans for additional supplemental funds to be requested in early February, a senior administration official said.

Some lawmakers are already questioning whether $25 billion is enough. Senate Armed Services member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement that, "given the increased tempo of operations as seen in April and the need for the long-term deployment of troops, it is clear that this is not enough money."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten briefed House and Senate GOP leaders and the chairmen of the Appropriations and Budget Committees Wednesday.

Democrats said they were kept in the dark. "I find it interesting and wildly inappropriate that on a subject as serious as war, which is certainly a bipartisan matter, this administration has once again treated it as a partisan issue," said House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis.

A senior administration official said the Defense Department and OMB do not yet know what next year's eventual supplemental request will be, but that the cost would be "defrayed" somewhat by the $25 billion emergency fund.

Bolten has said total 2005 funding for Iraq and Afghanistan could reach $50 billion, although some estimates place the figure as high as $75 billion.

The official request will be in the form of a "contingent emergency reserve," according to the senior administration official. "The president will have to tell Congress he wants to spend the money," the official said.

The administration previously had denied any need for additional funds before January.

The $25 billion request is not expected to reach lawmakers for 30 days, congressional aides said, meaning House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., probably will not mark up the fiscal 2005 Defense spending bill -- to which the funds would be attached -- until early June.

The $25 billion will be a budget amendment to the regular Pentagon request of $401.7 billion, and will count as emergency funds instead of against the Appropriations Committees' likely discretionary spending limit of $821 billion, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said.

The fiscal 2005 budget resolution, currently mired in conference over an unrelated tax issue, contains an allowance for $50 billion in funds for Iraq and Afghanistan that the administration had not originally requested.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees are likely to include the $25 billion request in the defense authorization bill, and possibly legislative language to allow fund transfers if necessary to make up for a potential fiscal 2004 shortfall.

The Pentagon is conducting its annual mid-year review over the next two weeks to see if additional transfer authority is needed to make up an estimated $4 billion the troops may need before the end of the current fiscal year. The administration official said Army operations and maintenance accounts become depleted more rapidly than others and funds may have to be shifted around.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said, "We will quickly pass this funding because we must and will prevail in Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terrorism." However, one congressional aide said that, in fact, the White House is seeking a $25 billion "slush fund," no strings attached, and that he expects it to be a fight between the administration and Hunter to get things like an end-strength increase into the measure.

Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., wrote a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., asking him to postpone the authorization markup until hearings were held on the $25 billion request.

"This is $25 billion worth of proof that the Bush White House has no plan for Iraq," Byrd said in a statement. "Congress should not consider approving a single dime of this funding until the administration provides a specific plan with specific details."

None of the $25 billion request is for reconstruction in Iraq, where progress is proceeding slowly. OMB reported to Congress last month that only $2.24 billion out of $18.45 billion in reconstruction funds appropriated in the $87.5 billion fiscal 2004 supplemental have been obligated, and even less spent.

Amy Klamper contributed to this report.

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