President Bush asked Congress on Monday to approve $196 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other national security programs, setting the stage for a new confrontation with Democrats over the administration’s handling of Iraq.
Bush’s request increased the amount of the proposed spending by $46 billion over the $150 billion already requested this year. Much of the added spending would pay for new armored vehicles designed to withstand attacks by mines and roadside bombs, and a rise in operational costs because of the increase in the force in Iraq, now at more than 160,000 troops.
The spending — declared an emergency under spending rules, even though the need for the money was never in question — comes in the middle of the White House’s fight with Congress over a series of spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. None of those bills has been completed so far.
Democrats on Capitol Hill, having failed last week to override Bush’s veto of an expansion of a children’s health insurance program costing $35 billion, reacted with dismay and anger that reflected a broader frustration over the war in Iraq. They also said they believed Bush delayed his formal request to avoid unfavorable comparisons between his veto and the spending on the war.
House and Senate leaders have warned that they would not take up the president’s request until they resolve differences in the spending bills that Bush has vowed to veto. Those differences amount to $22 billion, a fraction of the spending for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, criticized Bush for pushing the extra financing even as the president attacked Democrats as spendthrifts.
“It’s amazing to me that the president expects to be taken seriously when he says we cannot afford $20 billion in investments in education, health, law enforcement and science, which will make this country stronger over the long term,” Obey said in a statement.
“But he doesn’t blink an eye at asking to borrow $200 billion for a policy in Iraq that leaves us six months from now exactly where we were six months ago.”
Bush, appearing at the White House with veterans and relatives of soldiers, warned Congress to move quickly to approve the added spending, though he did not make his final supplemental proposal until three weeks into the fiscal year.
“Congress should not go home for the holidays while our troops are still waiting for the funds they need,” he said.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized the tactic that allowed the White House to pay for the war with emergency spending, keeping the costs off the budget. “The entire war has been paid with borrowed money,” he said in the Senate.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the cost of less than 40 days in Iraq would pay for health-care coverage for 10 million children for a year.