Aides: Bush to seek $65 billion for terror war
Tells GOP leaders he will seek more money for rebuilding
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush told Republican congressional leaders Wednesday that he will soon ask for approximately $65 billion in additional funding for both Iraq and Afghanistan, senior GOP leadership aides said.
According to the GOP congressional leadership aide, the president said the White House will "seriously ramp up the public relations effort" to counter Democratic criticism of the administration's Iraq policy.
A senior administration official involved in budget matters cautioned that while $65 billion is in the range of what the White House is planning to request, they are still crunching the numbers and the figure is "fluid."
The additional funding request, to pay for military operations and reconstruction in both countries, would be requested to supplement next year's budget. Congress passed some $79 billion in additional money for Iraq and Afghanistan in April.
Administration officials have been reluctant to put a price tag on the war in Iraq.
The United States is spending about $3.9 billion a month on military operations in Iraq, not counting funds to rebuild the country. None of that money is in the 2004 spending bills working their way through Congress.
"We're working to determine the exact needs and the precise costs going forward," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. "There are a lot of variables involved from international participation to ... troop levels to oil production."
Bush also said he will seek supplemental funding from Congress for rebuilding Iraq. Although details weren't provided, the request is expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.
Some lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, urged the White House to submit its request as soon as possible, said another GOP aide.
After the meeting, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas expressed the same thought. "Our people feel sooner rather than later would be better," Hutchison said.
A third GOP source said the president was encouraged to "be bold" with his request for money and ask for as much as he needs now in order to get the job done right in Iraq.
"The president was told to ask for as much as he may need for the foreseeable future," said the GOP source, "whatever it is, ask for it now, and make sure you can justify it."
The senior GOP aide told CNN that Bush was passionate about the "moral imperative" the United States faces in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism.
He pledged that "no half-measures" will be taken to bring the chaotic situation in that country under control, the aide said.
Bush returned this week from a monthlong vacation at his Texas ranch and Congress returned from its summer break on Wednesday.
He promised a "campaign style" drive to bolster public support in which "we're going to say exactly why we're in Iraq," the aide said.
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other key advisers met in the Cabinet room with the top GOP leaders of the House and Senate, chairmen of the appropriations committees and other key lawmakers.
Most scattered afterward, eluding reporters. The White House offered no immediate comment on what transpired.
Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania told reporters "80 percent" of the meeting was about Iraq.
One GOP congressional aide said other issues discussed included the economy, energy, Medicare, prescription drugs, tort reform and the status of the nation's forests.
CNN correspondent Dana Bash and producers Catherine Berger and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.