- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

President Obama asked Congress on Thursday for $83.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting him in the awkward position of requesting the same type of supplemental war spending he opposed as a senator when it was requested by President George W. Bush.

About $75 billion would go to the Pentagon and most of the rest would go to war-related diplomatic efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Democratic aides briefed on the request. They did not want to be identified discussing the private briefing.

"We face a security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan that demands urgent attention. The Taliban is resurgent and al Qaeda threatens America from its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border," Mr. Obama wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in a letter released Thursday night.

"Nearly 95 percent of these funds will be used to support our men and women in uniform as they help the people of Iraq to take responsibility for their own future - and work to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Unlike war supplemental spending bills from the previous administration, Mr. Obama's should pass easily. Republicans, many of whom view the Obama administration as adopting Mr. Bush's war plan and applying the Iraq surge strategy to Afghanistan, will likely support the bill.

However, Republicans are considering using the legislation as a vehicle to restore some of the military budget cuts announced last week by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, such as ending production of the F-22 fighter jet.

Mr. Obama also will seek about $400 million to upgrade security along the U.S.-Mexico border and to combat drug cartels.

The request would double spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars so far this year and pay for military operations into the fall. If approved, it would boost 2009 war spending to about $150 billion, which is about $40 billion less than what the U.S. spent on the wars in 2008 and about $20 billion less than in 2007.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the supplemental spending is necessary because funding is set to run out before the start of fiscal 2010 on Oct. 1 and the spending will make possible Mr. Obama's new war strategy.

"A supplemental is required in order to fund the new strategy in Afghanistan and fund the process in Iraq that will lead to a drawdown of all of our combat troops," Mr. Gibbs said. "Short of finishing the appropriations process by Memorial Day, you wouldn't have any money for troops that are there."

He said war spending will be included in the regular budget starting in 2010, which would end the Bush administration's practice of paying for the wars with supplemental spending bills that increase federal debt.

In 2007, Mr. Obama was one of 14 senators to vote against Mr. Bush's first $120 billion war supplemental spending bill, which was followed by one for $50 billion that Mr. Obama also opposed.

"This vote is a choice between validating the same failed policy in Iraq that has cost us so many lives and demanding a new one," Mr. Obama said at the time. "And I am demanding a new one."

Mr. Obama's staunch criticism of the Iraq war endeared him to the Democratic Party's liberal base and helped fuel his run for president. Once elected, he has followed through on his promise for a U.S. pullout from Iraq, announcing plans for a near-complete withdrawal of combat troops by August 2010.

Mr. Obama's request for $83.4 billion would push the cost of the wars to nearly $1 trillion since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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