The White House had hoped to hold off asking for more money to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until after the election, but with costs rising faster than expected, it sent a request for an early $25 billion to Congress this week.
The terse, three-page request came with a catch that stunned lawmakers: While the funds were allocated to broad categories — $16 billion for the Army, $6 billion for the other services, $5 billion for covert operations — Bush asked for a free hand to transfer the money to other activities related to Iraq and Afghanistan at will; in other words, to spend it as he pleases.
Congress should be wary of writing a blank check. It is a risky precedent. Traditionally Congress has jealously guarded its constitutionally bestowed control of the purse strings. Bush said he would transfer the money only for "emergency and essential" purposes. But "emergency and essential" is an elastic category, and this request will not be the last.
The Bush administration has said it will come back later in the year for a second installment of $25 billion, for a total of $50 billion. But even that might not be enough. New figures given Congress this week say spending on Iraq and Afghanistan could be $66 billion or more for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
The nation was assured before the war that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for rebuilding and occupying Iraq; the implication being that this venture would be of only moderate cost to the taxpayers. Iraq’s oil revenues are projected at $16.6 billion this year. Once the money is deducted to renovate the oil fields after years of neglect and mismanagement, what’s left might not even be enough to fund the new interim Iraqi government.
With the $160 billion or so we have spent so far, plus another $66 billion next year, the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could be more than $220 billion by the end of fiscal 2005.
Wasn’t it Larry Lindsey who was fired as White House economic advisor three months in advance of the invasion of Iraq for suggesting that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion?