- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The White House yesterday delivered to Congress its proposal for $87 billion in additional war costs, and Democrats began drafting plans to bill wealthy Americans for it.

“The choices are stark but the answer to me is absolutely clear how to pay for this,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

His plan would repeal one year of President Bush’s tax cut for the wealthiest Americans to pay for the extra war costs.

Several Democrats have signed onto the idea, and Mr. Biden said even some Republicans expressed optimism about his plan. He declined to identify them.

Publicly, Republicans were cool to the idea yesterday.

“I don’t think they ought to be playing these class-warfare games in the midst of winning this war on terrorism,” said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican.

Mr. Biden said he floated his idea among some of his wealthiest friends in Delaware and they all liked it.

“They know it’s right; they know it’s fair,” he said of the wealthiest 1 percent, who paid 37 percent of the nation’s personal taxes in 2000. “No one has asked anything of them.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said: “Most of the top-rate payers are business owners. They need to be competitive because they’re the ones who employ folks. The last thing we need to do up here is stifle the economy.”

Senior administration officials said the $87 billion request has not changed significantly since Mr. Bush announced it earlier this month. The bulk of the money, more than $66 billion, would pay for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for the next year.

Mr. Bush yesterday was unapologetic about spending $20 billion to repair Iraq’s war-torn infrastructure.

“It is vital that we succeed in Iraq,” the president said. “A free Iraq will make America more secure. A free Iraq will change the dynamics of the Middle East, which will be important for peace.”

Congress will hold hearings on the spending request next week. Republicans have said they expect to support the requests, though they also want the administration to be forthcoming about the extent of American commitment.

Democrats, though, face a difficult balancing act. They want to push for more information about war spending, and the supplemental request gives them leverage, but they also run the risk of appearing opposed to aiding the troops.

Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said Congress failed to ask the tough questions last time the president sent up an emergency spending bill for the war.

“I want the Congress this time to look like the U.S. Congress ought to look, rather than look like a poor imitation of the board of directors at Enron,” he said.

One option would be to split the spending bill into a measure that supports the troops, which Democrats would support overwhelmingly, and a measure for the rest of the costs.

But Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and Appropriations Committee chairman, said the bill must remain one piece.

“I considered it and rejected it. It just doesn’t fly. It’s all one package,” he said.

Several other Democrats including Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey said they support Mr. Biden’s plan.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, hasn’t seen the Biden plan but said, “We’ve got to find a way to pay for this additional cost. This deficit is already the highest deficit on an operating basis since World War II and in terms of actual dollars it’s the highest ever.”

Sen. John Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said he’s open to the idea.

“We’ve got to fully fund [the] troops,” he said. “But my concern is paying for all of it without our allies.”

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