Democrats are considering cutting President Bush's budget $142 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year by $20 billion, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said Thursday.
The war funding cut would affect the budget year beginning Oct. 1 and is separate from the ongoing debate over Bush's $100 billion request for immediate supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The North Dakota Democrat said he likely will use Congressional Budget Office estimates - instead of the administration's February budget request - as the basis for estimating Iraq and Afghanistan war costs.
Continued troop presence through 2012
The administration asked for $141.7 billion for Fiscal 2008, but assumes only $50 billion for 2009 and no war funding after that.
CBO issued an estimate last month that forecasts 2008 costs of $120 billion for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and military aid for the armies of those two countries. The estimates would drop to $75 billion in 2009 and to $40 billion in 2010.
Conrad is following a CBO scenario under which the number of troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced to 30,000 by 2010.
But over the full five-year window, Conrad said Democrats would actually provide $85 billion more in war funds than Bush requested since he assumes a continued troop presence over 2010-2012.
"We are going to provide actually more funding , because we think the president's budget has understated the war costs over the five-year period," Conrad said.
He added that the congressional budget resolution he is drafting for debate later this month will provide Bush's request for a $49 billion boost in the core Pentagon budget.
Conrad said a final decision has not been made whether to impose the $20 billion cut.
Long-term budget battle
The annual congressional budget blueprint sets guidelines but is not binding, and the actual war budget will be set under a fiscal 2008 defense spending bill that will advance later this year.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England told the budget panel that the administration's $142 billion 2008 war request is the Pentagon's best estimate but that it "could go up or down" depending on how well the war goes.
The nearly four-year-old war in Iraq has thus far been financed primarily through emergency spending bills, to growing criticism from lawmakers who say it should be part of the long-term budget. Last month's Bush budget submission represented the first time the administration offered a detailed war funding request so far in advance.
A separate issue is the looming $100 billion Iraq and Afghanistan funding bill, which continues to roil Capitol Hill.
Democrats are deeply divided over their Iraq strategy, but leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., want the war funding bill to require that any troops deployed in Iraq be properly trained, equipped and rested.
The conditions could be waived, under their most recent plan, but President Bush would have to do so himself, and report to Congress each time.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans would vote against the war funding measure if it contained restrictions that inhibited Bush, but he said Republicans would have to see a detailed proposal before reaching any such decision.
"We will fight every effort that the Democrats attempt to put handcuffs on the president to stymie his ability to wage this war in Iraq and to win it," Boehner said.
The comments marked something of a role revision for Republicans, who have savaged Democrats for proposing conditions on the Iraq spending measure, saying they were trying to cut off funding for the troops.