Bush, Congress Fight Over War Cost

President Bush sharply criticized the Democratic-led Congress for its funding priorities in a speech Tuesday.

The president said Congress is like "a teenager with a new credit card" for wanting to spend $22 billion more than the White House would allow on nonwar-related funding bills.

Earlier in the day, Bush vetoed a spending bill for health and education measures prized by congressional Democrats, who fell just three votes short of winning a veto-proof majority for the $606 billion measure.

Dems: War 'Ruining' Economy

Meanwhile, Democrats said the president is ruining the economy by not agreeing to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The president said Democrats are "tax and spend" and want to spend $1,300 more than he does for every second of the next year and accused Democrats of trying to raise taxes in several other spending bills they are preparing to send him, which he said would hurt taxpayers and the economy.


"The price of these tax increases would not be paid in the halls of Congress," Bush argued, predicting such increases might lead to a "a greater likelihood of a slowdown across our economy."

Both the White House and the Democratic-led Congress do agree on spending money for defense.

In addition to the veto this morning, President Bush signed the annual spending bill for non-Iraq and Afghanistan defense funding.

At just shy of half a trillion dollars, defense funding accounts for roughly half the nearly trillion dollars the federal government will spend in 2008.

Bush Demands Additional War Money

President Bush has also asked Congress for more than $190 billion extra to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year and asked for that money before Christmas.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that the Pentagon can take some of the half trillion in nonwar funding to cover any shortfalls while the Congress can hash things out with the White House.

It could be a while.

Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., only want to give him $50 billion of that -- they're calling it a "bridge fund."

The war funding bill would also mandate that the money be used to redeploy combat troops almost immediately, with a goal of having only a token American force in Iraq by the end of 2008.

If that plan sounds similar, it should.

Democrats sent a similar withdrawal or "phased redeployment" plan to the president's desk with the war funding bill for 2007.

Republicans in the Senate blocked votes for withdrawal that Democrats later tried to attach to nonspending measures. In all, there have been between 40 and 59 votes (depending on whom you are talking to and what you consider to be Iraq-related) on Iraq-related measures in the two houses in less than a year.

Pelosi dismissed allegations that another vote on withdrawal without a clear, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate is anything more than political posturing.

"For many of us here, the war issue is the premier issue," she said last Thursday. "We talk about ethics. This war is the biggest ethical challenge facing our nation, the manner in which we went in without a plan for our troops, without a -- well, on a false premise -- without a plan for our troops on how to succeed, without a strategy for success, without a reason to stay."

War Becoming '$800 Billion Gorilla'

But the war is not, for Democrats, just an ethical issue. It is also, they hope, a financial one for voters.

The Joint Economic Committee, with members from both the House and the Senate, released a report Tuesday titled "War at Any Price: The Total Economic Costs of the War Beyond the Federal Budget."

In it, they speculate that the real economic cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is double the money actually spent fighting in those countries.

"The cost of the war," according to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, is becoming "the $800 billion gorilla in the room for people who oppose the Iraq War."

"For every dollar we spend directly in Iraq, we spend another dollar indirectly," said Schumer.

First, he argued, there are the direct costs for the war -- money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan on the military -- $804 billion spent on the two wars by the end of 2008, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget office.

But then there are also what the report calls the "additional economic costs," including "foregone investment return, interest to foreign owners, the cost of treating and supporting injured veterans, and disruption in the oil market."

To head off criticism that most of the run-up in oil prices since 2001 has to do with futures trading and other schemes, Schumer said the report considers only $5 in the run-up to $95 dollar a barrel oil to be the result of the Iraq War.

The report estimates the war will cost more than $3 trillion in total by 2017 if American troops are kept in Iraq for a "protracted period" like they are in Korea as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested.

"We are borrowing money from Saudi Arabia and China and Japan and Mexico. It will take decades to pay it off," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid: 'We Cannot Afford This War'

The Democratic majority leader pledged that Democrats will not give Bush a supplemental spending bill that does not have some sort of strings attached.

"Bringing the troops home will be good for the military, but it will also be good for the taxpayer. We cannot afford this war," Reid said.

But he will have trouble forcing the president to accept withdrawal language.

Asked Tuesday if he had the 60 votes he would need to break a Republican filibuster and send the president a war spending bill with withdrawal language, Reid said, "I always expect we'll get 60 votes, but we never seem to."

There is little doubt what will happen if Democrats can muster the votes to send Bush the war funding bill with a quarter of his request and the goal of removing all combat troops by the time he leaves office -- he will veto it.