WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is working on its largest-ever appeal for more Iraq War funds - a record $100 billion, at least, and that figure reflects cuts from wish lists originally circulating around the Pentagon.
The measure will give Democrats, who take control of Congress next year, an early chance to try changing the conduct of the war. But they are limited and do not want to be cast as unsympathetic to U.S. troops.
"We're not going to do anything to limit funding or cut off funds," says Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Senior Pentagon officials have trimmed initial requests from the Army and Air Force. But with $70 billion already approved for the budget year that began Oct. 1, and more money needed to replace lost or worn-out equipment, spending levels for 2007 easily will be at the highest since the Iraq War began in 2003.
No specific figures
Precise figures have not been set by either the Pentagon or the White House. The requests in February for Iraq and Afghanistan probably will be about
$100 billion, but could climb as high as $128 billion if the services get their way, said Jim McAleese, a Virginia lawyer who specializes in national security law.
Including the money already approved, the cost of the total military spending for Iraq and Afghanistan could come close to $200 billion in 2007. About $120 billion was spent in the 2006 budget year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Despite widespread discontent over the Iraq War and Bush's handling of it, Democrats are expected to grant the vast majority of the request. Yet evidence is accumulating that the figure the White House sends to Capitol Hill will not be limited to dollars critically needed for troops and war-fighting.
There is much sentiment among Democrats to protect troops and fear about being portrayed as unsympathetic to men and women in uniform. These factors probably would overwhelm any efforts by anti-war Democrats to use the debate over the Iraq money to take on Bush's conduct of the war.
"Although the Democrats are very uncomfortable with the way the Iraq policy is being executed, they are at pains not to appear that they are shortchanging troops in the field," said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a Washington-area think tank.
"This is their opportunity to show that they, too, are pro-defense," Thompson said.
Democrats are promising to give the upcoming request greater scrutiny than Republicans did when considering Bush's previous requests.