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Bush war request called 'sobering'

A former presidential aide called the request 'eye-popping'

Bush addresses nation from the White House Cabinet Room.
Bush addresses nation from the White House Cabinet Room.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's $87 billion request to pay for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan next year is "sobering" but realistic, a Republican senator said Monday, but some members of Congress say it is just a down payment on what eventually will be needed.

More than four-fifths of the requested amount -- $20 billion for reconstruction and $51 billion for military operations -- would go to pay for the war in Iraq, the White House said Monday.

In a televised address Sunday night, Bush called Iraq "the central front" in the war on terrorism.

"This will take time and require sacrifice," he said. "Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure."

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, called Bush's address "sobering" but realistic.

"We knew that it was going to be a lot of money and it was going to take a lot of time," said Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

"But this was the first strong message that the president put out like that, and I think he had to do it. He had no choice."

David Gergen, a former adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, called the request "eye-popping."

Gergen said Bush "has transformed the war on terrorism now into something that I don't think anybody expected when we started.

"It is now morphing into a commitment to rebuild Iraq and to achieve peace and security not only in Iraq, but indeed in much of the Middle East.

"That is a major change in what our overall purpose of this war is and how we define success."

About $11 billion of the budget request will fund military operations in Afghanistan, where U.S. and allied troops are fighting the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, the terrorist network responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Another $800 million will go toward reconstruction and security needs in Afghanistan, the White House said.

The rest of the $87 billion request -- roughly $4 billion -- would to other parts of the world, it said.

Bush's budget request is bigger than the amount spent in 2003 by any U.S. agency but three -- the Pentagon, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration, according to figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, said the budget request was likely to be just a "down payment" on the larger cost of the war.

"We're going to see the rest of it on the installment plan," said Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Obey has called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, accusing them of botching plans for the occupation of Iraq.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Bush "owes the American people a full accounting of what has already been spent in Iraq and a detailed plan for future spending."

"Congress will provide our servicemen and women with whatever resources they need to accomplish their mission," Pelosi said in a statement. "The president's spending request on infrastructure will be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny."

The $20 billion in reconstruction funds for Iraq includes about $5 billion to train, equip and deploy police, border guards and customs officers.

The remaining $15 billion will go to overhaul or expand water systems, power plants, oil pipelines, transportation facilities and hospitals.

Though the White House expects Iraqi oil revenue eventually will offset the costs of Iraq's reconstruction, "the U.S. contribution is designed to have an immediate and significant impact on security and sectors critical to stability and growth," the White House said.

The military request for Iraq includes $800 million to transport allied troops participating in the occupation, $300 million for body armor for U.S. troops and $140 million for heavily armored Humvees, the White House said.

It also seeks money to provide two weeks of rest and recreation for troops serving on a one-year deployment.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, said U.S. forces are making some progress in stabilizing Iraq, but he said Bush's speech did not go "far enough to really chart out a course over the next several years."

"We have real questions about the size of our forces, whether an international division will be provided, what efforts are being made to engage multinational support politically, diplomatically, and militarily," said Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "Those questions remain."

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