WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will ask Congress in coming months for up to $50 billion more for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House budget director said Monday.
The request would represent the third major request to pay for U.S. activities in those countries since last spring. Though Congress has approved most of President Bush's defense proposals with little complaint since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the White House is under growing criticism from Republicans for overall spending that has grown rapidly in his administration.
The money would be on top of $401.7 billion in defense spending that Bush included in the $2.4 trillion budget for 2005 he sent lawmakers Monday.
Congress approved $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in November, and had approved an earlier $79 billion package last spring. Most of those funds were for U.S. military operations in the two countries.
In a briefing on Bush's budget, White House budget chief Joshua Bolten told reporters they should regard $50 billion "as the upper limit for what will be needed in 05" for Iraq and Afghanistan.
In budget documents The Associated Press obtained on Friday, the Defense Department said it expected to request extra money for Iraq and Afghanistan, but said it did not expect to do so this calendar year. That would push the next request until after the November presidential and congressional elections.
Bush's defense budget would give substantial boosts to national missile defense, with money to pay for the deployment of up to 20 interceptors in California and Alaska by the end of next year.
Missile defense efforts would receive almost $10.2 billion in the new budget. That is nearly a $1.2 billion increase over this year, according to budget books provided by the Pentagon.
The proposed military budget, which goes to Congress to decide its fate, rings in at $401.7 billion, a 7 percent increase over this year. It represents a continuation of the Bush administration's military policy, with some additional money for several programs.
The proposed budget also includes a 3.5 percent raise in base pay for military personnel.
It doesn't include much money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are primarily paid for through an additional spending bill approved by Congress last fall. Pentagon officials said they anticipate needing a new supplemental spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in early 2005.
The proposed budget would nearly double the spending, to $3.2 billion, on an Army modernization program called Future Combat Systems, which is developing an array of military gear for soldiers to use in 2010 and afterward.
No major weapons systems would be cut, unlike last year, when the Army's Crusader artillery program was eliminated. Several programs thought to be at risk of cancellation received increased funding.
The Comanche combat helicopter program, still in development, would receive $1.2 billion, a moderate increase over this year.
The budget also includes money to purchase 11 V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, 8 for the Marine Corps and 3 for the Air Force. The program was plagued by deadly crashes during its development.
The Joint Strike Fighter program, which aims to create an all-purpose jet fighter for the United States and several allies, will be somewhat more expensive than originally planned, a senior defense official said Friday, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity. Whether that means the U.S. Air Force and Navy will buy less, or spend more, on the planes is unclear, the official said.
The first missile defenses are expected to go online sometime this fall, with six interceptor missiles in place in Alaska, plus three more in California, by the end of the year, a spokesman at the Missile Defense Agency said.
They are being placed with the perceived threat of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles foremost in mind. The 2005 proposed budget includes money to bring the total number of interceptors to 20. In addition, the first 10 ship-based interceptors would be deployed on three U.S. cruisers.
The naval missiles are not intended to shoot down intercontinental missiles, but shorter-range ones, such as those North Korea can bombard Japan with.