Congress Ready for Supplemental Request Once War Begins

Posted March 7, 2003 at 2:05pm

Congressional appropriators are standing by to fund a war with Iraq if and when President Bush gives the go ahead.

After Bush made it clear Thursday night that he is ready to forcefully remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein with or without United Nations support, focus on the Hill now turns to how the federal government — already heading into the red — will pay for such action.

Aides to the House Appropriations Committee said they would take up a supplemental spending request as soon as one is received.

“We’ll do it as quickly as possibly,” spokesman John Scofield said.

The Office of Management and Budget will make the request.

“When the president decides we’ll know,” an OMB spokesman said.

As for how much the president will request, no one knows.

“Our only benchmark is the ’91 Gulf War, which cost $61 billion,” the spokesman said.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, top military officials said a war could cost from $47 billion to $67 billion in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

While much is uncertain, Scofield said appropriators know that a request would have at least two additional components — one for foreign aid and another for homeland security.

Congress approved $10 billion for the war on terrorism, including the cost of the ongoing operation in Afghanistan, in the omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2003. Supplemental legislation would undoubtedly allot even more, he said.

When the time comes, Democrats have told the White House that they want as detailed a request as possible, according to an aide. They do not want Bush to request one large lump sum, he said.

And they think it might be wise to make multiple requests to pay for the war as it progresses, he said, adding that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made 11 separate requests to Congress to fund World War II.

Some Senate Democrats also think Congress should suspend work on the fiscal 2004 budget until the war uncertainty lifts.

Senate Budget member Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Senate Armed Services ranking member Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.) to postpone marking up the budget resolution.

“There’s no sacrifice that the American people are willing to bear when it comes to defending our country,” Corzine said at a press conference Thursday. “And there’s no cost that Congress will be unwilling to pay, should our nation go to war. Yet it would be fiscally irresponsible not to account for the costs of war when we prepare our budget.”