Democratic leaders warned Wednesday that Congress must stop writing “blank checks” for the Iraq war, after a report said the White House would request an extra 50 billion dollars in funding.
The Pentagon however said the report by the Washington Post that President George W. Bush could seek to take spending on the Iraq and Afghan wars to three billion dollars a week, was “premature.”
Democratic leaders have tried and failed to use past emergency funding bills for the war to force Bush to accept troop withdrawal timetables.
They signalled Wednesday they would use any new request to mount a new bid to change war strategy, as both sides gird for crucial testimony on the war by Iraq commander General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker.
A statement issued by House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office blamed Bush for pursuing “failed policies” in Iraq that had cost dearly in lives and dollars.
“The American people are demanding a new direction on the Iraq war not another quarterly invoice,” the statement said.
“It is time to wind down this war and begin to bring our troops home safely and soon.”
Veteran Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, who chairs the powerful Appropriations committee, which doles out cash for government programs, also reacted sharply.
“The Congress must not continue to cede its constitutional authority and simply write blank checks for the misguided policy in Iraq,” Byrd said in a statement.
“The latest reports of staggering waste, fraud and abuse in the rebuilding of Iraq further highlight the need to take a hard look at this new request from the White House.”
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell however said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had been surprised to see the report, saying a final figure had yet to be reached.
“Such stories as for how much we’re going to ask for, if we ask for more money, are premature,” he said.
A new request for funding would be a sign Bush anticipates prevailing in a showdown with the Democratic-controlled Congress which has been pushing for troop withdrawal.
The request “is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress,” the newspaper said, citing an unnamed congressional aide.
The White House refused to confirm the reports.
“We have said previously that after General Petraeus reports we will be evaluating what adjustments may need to be made to our pending FY08 (fiscal year 2008) supplemental request, which was sent up in February with the rest of the budget,” said national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
“I’m going to decline to speculate on this as General Petraeus has not testified nor have any decisions been made at this stage about whether, when, or what specific changes could be made,” he said.
In speeches to military veterans this week, Bush has touted signs of progress in Iraq and the need for a sustained military offensive like the one announced earlier this year which sent 30,000 extra troops to Iraq, bringing the total number of troops to around 160,000.
“There are unmistakable signs that our strategy is achieving the objectives we set out,” Bush said on Tuesday. “The momentum is now on our side.”
The 50 billion dollars would be in addition to the 460 billion dollars in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and 147 billion dollars in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.