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Sen. Joe Biden: 'Tell the American people the truth'

Sen. Joe Biden:
Sen. Joe Biden: "What they gain is not having to tell the American people the truth."

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CNN's Bill Hemmer talks with Sen. Joe Biden, who insists the Defense Department say how much U.S. forces in Iraq will cost.
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CNN's Jonathan Karl on lawmakers taking the Bush administration to task on war budgeting.
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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sharply chastised Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz Tuesday over the administration's decision not to reveal in the budget how much money it will cost to maintain the U.S. military presence in Iraqi next year.

The administration says it will not include a funding request in the 2004 budget but will wait to submit a supplemental budget later.

During Tuesday's hearing Biden asked Wolfowitz "When're you guys starting to be honest with us?" He later amended the word "honest" to "candor."

Wolfowitz objected to Biden questioning the administration's honesty. Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten told the committee that the numbers would not be in the budget "simply because we don't know what they will be."

Biden is considering running for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden spoke Wednesday with CNN's Bill Hemmer

CNN: Your frustration was obvious. What is your charge here? Do you think the White House is running from this figure?

BIDEN: Well, I think they are. I mean, look, everybody knows it's going to cost tens of billions of dollars next year. No one expects a budget to be precise. The reason we have supplementals is they make their best guess of what the cost is going to be. If it turns out not to be enough, they come back and say, 'Hey, fellas, and women, we need more money."

Now, in this case, what we have is they're putting no money in the budget, it doesn't affect the deficit, and it doesn't compete with anything else in the budget. So, people back in my home state and all of our home states say we need more money for education, highways, police, etc.

And then all of a sudden, we're going to be presented with a bill that's going to be 50, 75, 100, $150 billion dollars. And my folks back home and all of my other colleagues' folks are going to say, "Wait a minute, why isn't there enough money for the things we said?" They know it's going to cost billions.

CNN: You were looking for a dollar figure yesterday. Paul Wolfowitz says the numbers really aren't going to change -- roughly 150,000 troops, roughly $4 billion a month. So, you add it up, do the math and therein lies the answer.

BIDEN: You got it. But why don't they say that? Why won't they say that? Why do they put a big zero -- a zero -- as to how much money is going to appear in the president's budget next year?

They did the same thing last time out. They wouldn't give us an estimate of what it cost. They didn't -- and let me put it this way: Do you think the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn't have a game plan for next year? If they don't have a game plan for Iraq for next year, we're in real trouble. I'm confident they do.

CNN: Listening to Mr. Wolfowitz yesterday, he seemed to indicate, quite obviously from his answers, that if he comes out right now with a figure that in the end does not turn out to be correct, folks like yourself are going to come back and say, wait a minute, you said such and such on such a date and now you're backtracking on that. In there lies a point, correct?

BIDEN: No, because the truth of the matter is we've never done that to them. We've only done it to them when they've said to us things that are patently untrue or obviously not accurate. For example, when the secretary of defense said at the beginning of the year that he thought we'd be down to 30,000 troops by the end of this year, there is no one, not a single expert -- left, right, center, back, forward -- who thought that could possibly be true.

CNN: What does the White House, what does the administration gain from withholding that figure?

BIDEN: I think what they gain is not having to tell the American people the truth, and the truth is it's going to cost tens of billions of dollars, it's going to take tens of thousands of troops and we're going to be there for awhile. And we should tell the American people the truth. I support that. I will vote for that.

But what I am frustrated about is their failure to state the obvious. And so, what happens? My folks back home are saying, "Why aren't my sons or daughters home now? I mean, the president didn't tell us it was going to be all this long." And that it was just like the first war, Johnny and Jane were going to come marching home just like they did after Gulf One.

People are frustrated. Let's level with them, so we don't lose their support in an essential operation. We must win the peace in Iraq.

CNN: So many times we get the headlines, and the headlines oftentimes are negative, and another American soldier killed. No American likes to see that. We'll grant that with each other today. But with Qusay and Uday being knocked off about a week ago, can you admit the successes so far in Iraq.

BIDEN: Look, there are a lot of successes. I mean, I just -- not just, it's almost a month now -- got back from Baghdad. We have town councils set up. There is actual nascent democracy beginning to flourish there. The oil fields didn't get blown up. There is relative peace in the north.

There are a lot of successes. I'm not suggesting there are not successes. I want us to succeed there, but everybody you will speak to who knows anything about this will tell you we need another 5,000 -- our own people tell us we need another 5,000 European police officers on the ground now to help train their police. We need another 30,000 forces from other countries to help alleviate the strain on our forces. We need to do certain things.

And just tell the American people, so we have -- look, ... Dr. (Joseph) Hamre, at the request of the secretary of defense, sent out to the region, came back and testified before our committee and said there is a very narrow window that's closing. If we don't make real progress very soon, what will happen is we'll lose the support of the Iraqi people, and then there will be hell to pay. All we're trying to do is get us to face up to that straight-up now, make the changes necessary, and let's win this peace.


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