White House planning to delay war spending request

The Bush administration has assured congressional leaders that they would receive an emergency supplemental spending request to cover the cost of the war within days of the start of possible military action in Iraq, congressional aides said Friday.

However, it is still unclear when or if the action will begin and whether a supplemental request would complicate efforts by the Senate and the House to pass their fiscal 2004 budget resolutions, which are targeted for completion by the end of next week, aides said. Vice President Cheney met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Thursday to discuss, among other things, the timing of a spending request on military action in Iraq.

It is not expected that such a request would come until after the House and Senate complete floor action on the budget resolution, a key aide said. However, having a supplemental that could total somewhere between $65 billion and $95 billion come up while the tax cuts in the budget resolution are being debated could threaten the Republicans' economic agenda. House leaders have also said they want the supplemental war request delayed as long as possible to provide breathing room between the tax cuts and war spending.

Plans to finish the budget resolution by Friday could be hampered by Democrats' plans for offering amendments to draw attention to their spending priorities, and moderate Democrats' and Republicans' plan to try to scale back the $726 billion tax cut. Democratic leaders have said all tax cuts should be put off until the costs of a potential war with Iraq are known.

"What reasonable meaning can a budget resolution have if we can't say within hundreds of billions of dollars what the budget will be?" Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., asked earlier this week. And four moderates-Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, George Voinovich, R-Ohio, John Breaux, D-La., and Finance ranking member Max Baucus, D-Mont.-sent a letter to Senate leaders Thursday night, warning that they would oppose any new tax cuts over $350 billion that are not offset.

"We continue to believe that no tax cuts should be passed in light of pressing needs at both the federal and state levels, looming deficits and the possible conflict in Iraq. We will continue to work with like-minded members of Congress in both Houses to oppose any tax cuts," said Chuck Loveless, legislative director of American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, on behalf of the Fair Taxes for All Coalition.

But a spokesman for Frist said that it does not make sense to wait. "We're under statutory deadlines on which we have to act on the budget. They have been soft deadlines, but deadlines nonetheless," he said.

The budget resolutions introduced by both House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., require that the tax cuts be completed by mid-April, which could also be affected by a war supplemental request, but Senate leaders are confident. "We'll be in a position to switch over," said a GOP leadership aide.

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