WASHINGTON The Bush administration will ask the U.S. Congress next week for $70 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and related operations for part of the 2009 fiscal year, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The new request is likely to set up another battle with Democrats who control Congress and are critical of President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war. Congress has yet to approve most of Bush's fiscal 2008 war funding request.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the administration probably will not submit another war funding request after this one before leaving office next January. That would make war funding one of the first issues facing the next president.
Since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Congress has approved $691 billion to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and such related activities as Iraq reconstruction, the Congressional Budget Office said last week.
Of the total, the CBO estimated that $440 billion had been spent on the war in Iraq.
The new war request will come on top of the administration's request for the regular Pentagon budget for fiscal 2009, which starts on October 1, 2008.
But the two will be sent to Congress together next Monday as part of Bush's overall budget request.
"We will ask for $70 billion in an emergency allowance to support global war on terror in 2009," Whitman said.
Whitman would not say how long into 2009 the Pentagon believed the $70 billion would last but he made clear: "This emergency request certainly won't cover all of FY 09."
PRESSURE FROM CONGRESS
In past years, members of Congress have pressed the administration to submit full war funding requests together with the regular Pentagon budget so that both can be subjected to the same level of scrutiny simultaneously.
Last year, the administration tried to meet that demand, submitting estimated full-year war costs with its regular budget.
Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan group that promotes reducing the federal budget deficit, criticized the decision to submit only a partial funding request this time around.
"The war's been going on a quite a long time," he said. "They have a pretty good idea what a full year costs."
He noted that because Bush's budget would not include full estimated war costs for 2009, its deficit projections would look smaller than the likely true figure.
"That's not a good thing," he said.
Brian Riedl of the conservative Heritage Foundation also criticized the move for its effect on deficit projections.
"It would be better budgeting for the Pentagon to estimate the total funding that they would need for the full year," said Riedl, the foundation's lead budget analyst.
But the White House said Congress seemed to prefer partial funding and war costs were hard to predict far in advance.
"It is important that the budget remain a reflection of the strategic decisions made by our military commanders -- not vice versa," said Sean Kevelighan, spokesman for the White House budget office.
The administration has requested a total of nearly $190 billion in war funding for the 2008 fiscal year, but Congress has not approved that amount.
In December, it approved a $70 billion "bridge fund" to cover part of the current fiscal year. Democrats say those funds should be sufficient to last until around May or June.
The administration has not yet disclosed the planned size of the 2009 regular Pentagon budget. For the current fiscal year, Bush requested $481.4 billion for the Pentagon and Congress provided about $460 billion.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)