White House submits huge request for Iraq, hurricane relief | VailDaily.com

White House submits huge request for Iraq, hurricane relief

WASHINGTON – U.S. military spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will rise to $115 billion for this year – and nearly $400 billion since the fighting started – under a new White House request submitted to Congress Thursday.A separate request for almost $20 billion in new hurricane relief funds would bring total spending in response to Katrina and Rita to more than $100 billion.The Bush administration submitted a $65.3 billion war request, and Pentagon officials said the money would be sufficient to conduct the two wars at least through Sept. 30. Congress had approved $50 billion more for the war effort in December.”These funds support U.S. Armed Forces and Coalition partners as we advance democracy, fight the terrorists and insurgents, and train and equip Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their sovereignty and freedom,” President Bush said in a letter transmitting the request to Congress.The war in Iraq now costs about $5.9 billion a month, while Afghanistan operations cost about $900 million per month, said Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas. That doesn’t include the costs of replacing worn-out or destroyed equipment or training Iraqi and Afghan forces.The Pentagon said the latest request assumes a U.S. force of 138,000 troops on the ground in Iraq through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, even though the administration has signaled that troop numbers would fall below that this year.The supplemental spending request for the wars would bring the total price tag for the Iraq and Afghanistan missions to almost $400 billion. Bush’s budget anticipates an additional $50 billion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, though the costs are likely to be much greater.Thursday’s dual requests totaled $91 billion and came 10 days after Bush submitted his $2.8 trillion federal budget for 2007. Overall, the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars consumes about 4 percent of the budget.Still, war and hurricane relief costs and the burgeoning budget deficit – estimated to hit a record $423 billion this year – have put a squeeze on other programs. Bush’s budget proposed cuts for a variety of domestic programs such as education, Amtrak, community development and local law enforcement grants, and also proposed curbing inflation increases for Medicare providers.Congress is likely to vote on the massive requests next month, but lawmakers are already grumbling that the White House left out funds for highway repairs in Gulf Coast states and for various agriculture disasters dotting the Midwest. On the other side of the spectrum, conservatives believe the Katrina request should be matched with spending cuts elsewhere.The latest request also includes $4.2 billion for State Department operations and foreign aid, such as $75 million to promote democratic institutions in Iran and $514 million to support peacekeeping efforts and provide food aid in Sudan.The request also includes $2.9 billion for intelligence gathering and other related activities.The $19.8 billion being requested for hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast includes $4.2 billion in flexible community development block grants aimed at compensating Louisiana residents whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. Louisiana officials said their state was shortchanged when Congress approved $11.5 billion in such funds in December.The congressional delegations from bordering states Texas and Mississippi say they will resist devoting the new community development funds exclusively to Louisiana.”The complete lack of funding in this proposed supplemental for a state that absorbed enormous costs from two hurricanes is stunning,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “This is a major disappointment, but one the entire Texas delegation will fight to correct.”An additional $1.5 billion would go toward levee repair, storm-proofing drainage pumps and other flood control projects, including $100 million to restore wetlands around New Orleans. Some $3.1 billion would go to repair and rebuild federal facilities such as military bases and a veterans hospital in New Orleans.The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund is seeking $9.4 billion for such tasks as debris cleanup, housing aid and other relief. The request comes less than two months after lawmakers took $23.4 billion from FEMA’s coffers to help pay for a $29 billion Katrina relief bill.The latest request would push total federal spending for hurricane rebuilding to more than $100 billion, according to administration tallies. That reflects about $68 billion in emergency appropriations, $18.5 billion in available flood insurance funds and the latest $19.8 billion request.The latest war request includes:-$33.4 billion for operations and maintenance costs, including logistics, troop security, food and fuel associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan missions.-$10.4 billion to fix or replace damaged equipment such as Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.-$9.6 billion for personnel costs.-$5.9 billion to train and equip Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s military forces.-$1.9 billion for equipment to detect and neutralize roadside bombs and other so-called improvised explosive devices.-$1.5 billion to increase military survivors’ benefits and increase benefits for those injured in combat.Vail, Colorado

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