The Bush administration has asked Congress for a €23.6bn downpayment for next year’s US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the White House’s earlier plans not to seek the money until after the November elections.
The money – half of what White House officials have said they expect to need for 2005 – is designed to carry the military through the first months of the new budget year, which starts next October 1.
Congress is likely to be adjourned for much of that period, and the army in particular would be expected to face a cash crunch unless funds were approved beforehand.
“While we do not know the precise costs for operations next year, recent developments on the ground and increased demands on our troops indicate the need to plan for contingencies,” President George Bush said in a prepared statement.
“We must make sure there is no disruption in funding and resources for our troops.”
White House budget chief Joshua Bolten and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz went to the Congress last night to describe the proposal to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and other top Republicans.
“I certainly expect so,” Frist told reporters when asked whether Congress would approve the funds. “It’s for our troops.”
The proposal comes amid the intensified Iraqi insurrection that has inflicted steady casualties on Americans and forced the Pentagon to plan on keeping more troops in the country next year than the administration had planned.
It also comes with the Bush administration and the military facing widespread criticism at home and abroad for the abuse of Iraqi war prisoners, including investigations into the deaths of 14 of the detainees.
In addition, the White House faced growing demands from politicians of both parties in recent weeks that the money for Iraq needed to be approved before Congress adjourns this autumn.
Democrats criticised the Bush proposal because they said it was well short of what would really be needed.
David Obey, top Democrat on the House Appropropriations Committee, said the request would fall short of what was really needed by least €38bn. With this year’s expected record deficit looming as a campaign issue this autumn, Obey said the shortfall was purposeful.
“What it demonstrates is that they tried simply to avoid showing any of the costs before the election,” Obey told reporters. “Now they are asking for the least they can possibly ask for… concealing the full costs.”
The administration would seek more money for next year ”when we can better estimate precise costs,” Bush said.