Top lawmakers are pressing President George W. Bush to stop using a "shadow budget" to fund the Iraq war and instead list the expected costs in the 2008 spending plan he is set to unveil early next year.
Total war spending may reach $170 billion for the 2007 fiscal year that ends September 30, a record.
Since the conflict began in 2003, Bush has used emergency spending bills to cover nearly all of the costs for the Iraq operation, rather than including them in the annual budget.
He has come under criticism for this practice, not only by lawmakers but also by the Iraq Study Group that recommended policy options for Iraq and said that in the interests of openness, the budget process should not be circumvented.
Three lawmakers — one Republican and two Democrats — wrote to Bush on Thursday telling him that the emergency bills had created an "ever-expanding shadow budget" that was obscuring Congress’s oversight process and skewing budget deficit projections.
Congress "should be able to examine supplemental requests and see that our forces are receiving the support they need, and that funds are not being diverted to other unrelated needs," the letter said.
It was signed by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, current chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; and Democratic Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee.
PRECEDENTS IN KOREAN, VIETNAM WARS
Bush plans on February 5 to send Congress his budget for the fiscal 2008 year that begins October 1. At that time, he will also detail an emergency request to cover war costs for the rest of the 2007 fiscal year.
The $170 billion figure includes $70 billion that Congress has already appropriated and a fresh emergency request that lawmakers have said looks set to come in close to $100 billion.
Speaking to reporters this week, White House Budget Director Rob Portman said the administration would provide "more information than we have in the past" on the war-spending plans.
But he did not commit to ending the practice of using emergency spending bills, saying that many of the costs for the war can be difficult to predict.
Gregg, Conrad and Spratt said the Korean and Vietnam wars offered precedents for including war spending in the regular budget.
In legislation passed in June to authorize the latest infusion of funds for Iraq, an amendment was added requiring the president to finance the war costs through the annual budget.
But Bush indicated in a signing statement that he does not necessarily view that requirement as binding because it is the president’s role to submit the budget.