- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Less than a week after war erupted with Iraq, the White House has sent Congress a supplemental budget request for $74.7 billion for fiscal 2003, which ends Sept. 30. That sum will cover the initial costs associated with this major element of what President Bush has repeatedly said would be a lengthy war against terrorism.

The request includes $63 billion for fighting the war. Those costs include (1) an estimated $30 billion to deploy more than 200,000 U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf region; (2) a projected $5 billion per month to sustain U.S. forces in battle for the next five or six months, at which point the administration reportedly expects "at least the beginnings of withdrawal"; (3) $5 billion to replenish the stocks of munitions likely to be used over the next several months; and (4) several billion dollars in unspecified classified spending by the CIA and perhaps other intelligence agencies.

A second category of expenditures, which totals $8 billion, would provide relief and reconstruction for Iraq (approximately $3.5 billion) and assistance to U.S. allies helping to wage the war against terrorism. These allies include Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Colombia, the Philippines and Afghanistan, as well as several Eastern European nations.

The White House has been unfairly criticized for not providing adequate funding for Iraq's relief and reconstruction. On the one hand, the White House has emphasized that Iraq's oil wealth would not be used to pay for U.S. war expenditures to liberate its 23 million citizens from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. On the other hand, as Bill Sammon of The Washington Times reported, an administration official rightly noted that Iraq's oil assets would properly be used to "rebuild and reconstruct the country."

Interestingly, the budget request would give Turkey a cool billion. Turkey's parliament refused Washington's request to deploy 62,000 American troops from its bases for a northern front, and the parliament even refused to permit the United States the use of Turkish air bases for the war with Iraq. Only after Jordan provided overflight rights to U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles did Turkey belatedly grant the same permission. With 40,000 Turkish troops now massed on Turkey's border with Iraq, one hopes the billion allocated to Turkey is contingent upon its cooperation with U.S. wishes regarding the use of those troops.

The final category of expenditures provides more than $4 billion for defending the United States against the threat of terrorism. That includes $2 billion for state and local terrorism preparedness and prevention. This supplemental request for fiscal 2003 is above the $3.5 billion in subsidies for state and local "first responders" and other government transfers included in last month's omnibus budget bill for 2003. Also included in the supplemental's $4 billion for homeland security is $1.5 billion to help with security relating to ports, transportation and borders, as well as $500 million for the Justice Department. Now, reasonable people can disagree about whether this request meets all of the most important needs of homeland security. Still, Congress must take care not to turn this urgent bill into a Christmas tree to which it seeks to attach all sorts of low-priority projects only tangentially related to homeland security.

With this supplemental request and other potential costs, the budget deficit for 2003 could approach the $400 billion level. While a record in nominal terms, a $400 billion deficit would still be comfortably below 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In 1991, when the first Persian Gulf War was waged, the deficit exceeded 4.5 percent of GDP. And in that war, unlike today, allies underwrote about 90 percent of the costs.

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