True war cost placed at $3.5 trillion

Democrats on Tuesday warned hidden costs would catapult the price of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts to a staggering 3.5 trillion dollars, staking out a new war showdown with President George W. Bush.

The report by Democratic staffers on Congress’s Joint Economic Committee (JEC) said war costs would hit 1.6 trillion dollars by the end of next year, doubling the 804 billion dollars spent or requested by the administration.

Hidden outlays would also inflate the price to the 3.5 trillion dollar mark by 2017, they warned, basing the figure on the cost of treating wounded veterans, the Iraq war’s impact on oil prices and other economic factors.

Democratic leaders unveiled the report as they plotted their latest bid to force Bush’s hand on Iraq, warning he would not get any more money for the war this year — unless he agreed to troop withdrawal timetables.

“The backbreaking costs of this war to American families, the federal budget and the entire economy are beyond measure in many ways,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.

“What this report makes crystal clear is that the cost to our country in lives lost and dollars spent is tragically unacceptable.”

Senate Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid added: “We simply cannot buy victory in Iraq.”

The White House rejected the report.

“This committee is known for being partisan and political. They did not consult or cooperate with the Republicans on the committee,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters.

Republican lawmakers furiously demanded the withdrawal of the report.

“It is disappointing that the Democrats would release a report that contains so many factual errors,” said Republican JEC members Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Jim Saxton.

“The errors are in keeping with its sloppiness and overall political tone.”

Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell added: “Of course, the war has been costly, but we have been protected from attack here at home.”

The report’s headline figure of 3.5 trillion dollars is 1.1 trillion dollars higher than a non-partisan estimate by the Congressional Budget Office last month for war costs by 2017.

The JEC estimate assumes a drawdown of US troops in Iraq but the retention of a large-scale US force in the country.

It also takes into account money spent and requested for the wars, interest payments on foreign loans used to finance the spending, and factors in higher costs of oil due to declined Iraqi production.

The report estimates the cost of repair and refitting military equipment and the outlay needed to retain soldiers in the ranks and economic disruption caused by the deployment of US army reserve units.

The report was released ahead of an expected House of Representatives vote this week on a proposal to deliver 50 billion dollars to fund the wars for a four-month period instead of the 196 billion budget request from Bush.

The proposal would require the withdrawal or redeployment of most troops in Iraq to begin within 30 days, with a goal of completion within a year.

Bush has repeatedly resisted attempts by anti-war Democrats in Congress to force him to accept troop withdrawal timelines for the Iraq force.

Reid meanwhile said that he would try to push a similar bill through the Senate, despite repeated failures by Democrats to woo Republicans to overcome the 60-vote super majority in the 100-seat Senate needed for major legislation.

“If the president is not willing to take that with some conditions on it …. then the president won’t get his 50 billion. That’s pretty clear,” Reid said.

But Bush, during an appearance in New Albany, Indiana, warned “we don’t need members of Congress telling our military commanders what to do.”