The Pentagon is in the early stages of drafting a wartime request for up to $100 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan, lawmakers say, a figure that would push spending related to the wars toward a staggering half-trillion dollars.
Reps. Bill Young, R-Fla., the chairman of the House appropriations defense panel, and John Murtha, D-Pa., the senior Democrat on that subcommittee, say the military has informally told them it wants $80 billion to $100 billion in a war-spending package that the White House is expected to send Congress next year.
That would be in addition to $50 billion Congress is about to give the Pentagon before lawmakers adjourn for the year for operations in Iraq for the beginning of 2006. Military commanders expect that pot to last through May.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress has approved more than $300 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, including military operations, reconstruction, embassy security and foreign aid, as well as other costs related to the war on terrorism, according to the Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for Congress.
Asked about the upcoming spending package, Young offered the $80 billion to $100 billion range. "That's what I'm told," he said.
Murtha mentioned the $100 billion figure last week to reporters, saying "Twenty years it's going to take to settle this thing. The American people are not going to put up with it, can't afford it."
The service branches recently presented their individual requests for future funding to top Pentagon officials.
"They were very ambitious," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, a Washington-based think tank, who has close ties to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon still must write a final proposal and the White House still has to sign off on the plan, which President Bush is expected to send Congress next year. That means the request ultimately could differ from what lawmakers, congressional aides and military analysts are told the services are seeking.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Marine Lt. Col. Rose-Ann Lynch, said Tuesday that no decisions have been made regarding the next war-funding package, and that department officials will work with the service branches and combatant commands to assess needs based on conditions on the ground.
The administration long has contended that it can't put a price tag on future costs because of the unpredictable nature of war. Critics, mostly Democrats, have accused Bush of delaying his war spending requests for as long as possible to keep budget deficit projections looking smaller.
Such a large funding request — coming during a congressional election year — would present Republicans in the House and Senate with a high-stakes political predicament.
On one hand, GOP leaders could choose to sign off on the enormous amount of money — and anger fiscally conservative base voters who elected them to rein in government spending. Or, they could slice the Pentagon's request and leave themselves vulnerable to criticism that they are failing to support troops during wartime.
Thompson said $100 billion would not be surprising, given that bills containing war spending often escape close scrutiny and have turned into Christmas trees for the Pentagon's pet projects.
"The military hangs every wish, and every lost cause, onto the tree in hopes of getting it approved," Thompson said.
Analysts say they expect the services to seek a large chunk of money to replace equipment severely battered in Iraq. And, they say, even if large numbers of U.S. troops start returning home, as some administration officials have hinted, a lot of money still would be needed to relocate personnel and equipment.
Steven Kosiak, an analyst at the private Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, called the figures cited by lawmakers extraordinary but not inconceivable.
"The number is so high," he said, "that it suggests that there's a significant amount of money in there for costs not directly related to the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."