President sends supplemental request to Congress

By Peter Cohn, CongressDaily

President Bush sent his $81.9 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental spending request to Congress Monday, seeking money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, tsunami relief and other purposes.

"This request reflects urgent and essential requirements," Bush wrote in an accompanying letter to congressional leaders. "I ask the Congress to appropriate the funds as requested and promptly send the bill to me for signature," Bush wrote, adding his customary note of caution against adding unrelated items.

The package is aimed at covering a broad range of administration priorities -- from funding to restructure and increase the number of Army combat brigades to humanitarian assistance in Sudan, as well as funds for a project to detect nuclear materials entering overseas ports.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said in a statement his panel would move the supplemental request "quickly and cleanly" in early March, but not without appropriate vetting.

House and Senate Appropriations committees will hold separate hearings this week on the request, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice among the witnesses.

Part of the Pentagon's request seeks authority to transfer about $5 billion in new funding between accounts without prior notification, while increasing flexible funds provided under the FY05 Defense appropriations bill for the war effort by another $2.5 billion. Such proposals have typically been met with skepticism from lawmakers.

The request, if enacted, would bring total war funding to about $300 billion since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

It would provide about $74.9 billion for Pentagon accounts, including $400 million for enhanced benefits for survivors of those killed in action. The bulk of the request, about $36.3 billion, is for pay and operational costs, mostly for the Army.

Included are $5.7 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, including funds for two Iraqi Army mechanized forces, transportation and logistical support for Iraqi Army units, special operations forces and police academies. The funds would be aimed at ensuring the Iraqis "can increasingly assume responsibility for their nation's security," according to documents accompanying the request.

But that is not enough to placate powerful critics of the war, including Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. "This supplemental request provides support for our men and women in uniform, but it provides little basis for optimism for a stable and secure Iraq," he said in a statement.

An additional $1.3 billion is included to help train and equip security forces in Afghanistan, plus another $400 million in State Department accounts for law-enforcement agencies there.

The request would provide $5 billion for the Army's restructuring initiative and another $5.4 billion to replace equipment used in the wars. Another $3.3 billion is included for armor for convoy trucks, night-vision goggles and other protective equipment. The Pentagon portion also includes $41.8 million to construct a security fence and permanent detention facility for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

There is also $5.6 billion for State Department and international activities, including $1.4 billion for a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

About $2 billion would be provided for Afghan reconstruction activities, including $795 million for roads, schools and health clinics. Another $773 million would be for counter-narcotics operations.

The request also funds about $780 million for international peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Burundi, Congo, Sudan and the Ivory Coast, as well as about $342.4 million in humanitarian aid for the Darfur region of Sudan and Chad and to help implement the new Sudanese peace agreement signed last month.

To build on Middle East peace efforts, the new Palestinian leadership would receive $200 million, while $60 million is included for the new Ukrainian government.

Bush's request for $950 million for tsunami aid nearly triples his initial pledge of $350 million. It includes $120 million to reimburse the U.S. Agency for International Development for costs already incurred, $581 million for recovery and reconstruction efforts and $226 million for Pentagon costs associated with the relief effort.