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Bush Administration Seeks $245B for Wars
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
2 hours ago
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will ask for another $100 billion for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and seek $145 billion for 2008, a senior administration official said Friday.
The requests Monday, to accompany President Bush's budget for the 2008 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, would bring the total appropriations for 2007 to about $170 billion, with a decline the following year.
The additional request for the current year includes $93.4 billion for the Pentagon _ on top of $70 billion approved by Congress in September _ and is about $6 billion less than the Pentagon's request to the White House budget office.
Separately, White House Budget Director Rob Portman said Bush's budget submission also contains about a 1 percentage point cut in the rapid growth in Medicare, squeezing about $66 billion in savings from the popular federal health care program for the elderly over five years.
The Medicare cost cuts would curb payments to health care providers such as hospitals, and would require additional higher-income recipients to pay greater premiums.
"We need to get these unsustainable growth rates under control," Portman said, noting that Congress passed more ambitious cuts in 1997, when President Clinton and a GOP-controlled Congress enacted more than $160 billion in Medicare savings. "This is a good first step."
But Congress has since given back much of those 1997 savings, particularly cuts in doctors' fees, and smaller cuts proposed by the White House got nowhere last year in a Congress controlled by Republicans.
"What makes one think a Democratic congress will do something more than that?" asked Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association.
Portman said the Bush budget will show deficits declining every year, due in large part to continued revenue growth flowing from the strong economy. Bush's plan assumes Congress extends two rounds of tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, most of which expire at the end of 2010 under current law.
But its does not contain a long-term "fix" to for the alternative minimum tax for inflation, which is hitting an increasing number of middle class taxpayers, especially in Democratic-tilting states such as New York and New Jersey. The Congressional Budget Office estimates updating the AMT for inflation would cost $93 billion in 2012 alone.
On the war, the White House assumes spending will be down to $50 billion in 2009 with no funding planned beyond then in hopes the war in Iraq will have wound down.
Leaving out war costs and AMT fixes are among the reasons Bush's budgets have been met with skepticism by Democrats.
But the senior administration official said it is hoped that Bush's new Iraq policy will bring the war to a close.
"If we're successful carrying out the president's current policy, we would hope that we'd begin to have less of a financial commitment even in this fiscal year," said the senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the budget won't be unveiled until Monday. "This is our best guess."
The spiraling increases in war spending _ up from $120 billion approved by Congress for 2006 _ are largely to replace equipment destroyed in combat or worn out in harsh conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Iraq requests are certain to face scrutiny by the Democratic-controlled Congress, which is debating whether to try to block Bush's request to increase troop levels in Iraq to quell the burgeoning violence in Baghdad.
War critics also say the Pentagon is using war funding requests to modernize the armed services with weaponry _ such as the next-generation Joint Strike Fighters or the controversial V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft _ unlikely to see action in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Administration defends such acquisitions since the Joint Strike Fighter would replace F-16s lost in Iraq, and there are no assembly lines open for the 30-year-old airplanes.
The additional budget request for Iraq is far below ambitious lists assembled by the service branches, who were given a green light last fall by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who instructed the four military services that they could add projects connected to the broader fight against terrorism. Critics said that could be interpreted to cover almost anything.
Those lists were met with resistance in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and the Pentagon pared them back in the request it forwarded to the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which trimmed them further.
In addition to its share of the $245 billion for the wars, the Defense Department will seek $481.4 billion to run the department for 2008 _ an 11.3 percent increase over the amount approved by Congress for this year, according to a defense official and budget documents.
That total includes about $12 billion to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, to meet the growing strains of fighting wars on two fronts, said the Pentagon official, who requested anonymity because the budget has not yet been released.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Lolita Baldor contributed to this story.