- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

President Bush sent an $81.7 billion supplemental budget request to Congress yesterday to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a request that also includes millions of dollars in aid for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami that left more than a quarter-million people dead or missing.

“The majority of this request will ensure that our troops continue to get what they need to protect themselves and complete their mission,” Mr. Bush said. “It also provides for the continued pursuit of al Qaeda and other terrorist elements in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“It reflects our core mission in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing funding to accelerate efforts to train and equip Iraqi and Afghan forces, so they can assume greater responsibility for their own security and our troops can return home with the honor they have earned,” he said.

The president wants to spend $7.4 billion to train and equip Iraqi and Afghan security forces, $282 million to support upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, and $1.5 billion to repair infrastructure and fight the narcotics trade in that country.

Mr. Bush also requested $658 million to build and secure a permanent U.S. embassy in Baghdad and $717 million for security and operations at embassies worldwide. In addition, the bill would boost U.S. aid to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami to $950 million.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to Capitol Hill this week to defend the administration’s request to Congress.

Both parties have said they expect the bill to pass, but only after “some tough questions to ensure that our military men and women have what they need to get the job done,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The successful elections in Iraq have given new reason for optimism in what had been very difficult circumstances,” he said. “The administration’s request provides the necessary resources to continue our diplomatic and military missions in Iraq. It allows us to build on our recent successes and continue the cause of furthering democracy and freedom in Iraq.”

Mr. Lewis said he wants to have the bill on Mr. Bush’s desk in early April.

The bill is expected to pass easily, but a group of 35 generally pro-war, fiscally conservative Democrats, who call themselves the “Blue Dog Coalition,” complained that Mr. Bush did not include funding the war on terror in the $2.57 trillion budget for 2006 that he released last week.

“The Blue Dog Coalition recognizes that we must support our troops, but the Congress cannot continue to write blank checks,” the group said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan cast aside such criticisms, saying that because “we don’t know what the cost will be going forward in Iraq and Afghanistan,” funding the war with supplemental requests is the most prudent action to take.

“To a large extent, [it] depends on circumstances on the ground,” he said. “When you’re looking at the war on terrorism, it’s not a cost that I think most people who understand budgeting think should be built into the base line because it’s not going to be considered a permanent ongoing cost, some of those activities.”

The Congressional Research Service says Congress has approved a little more than $300 billion so far to fight the war on terror.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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