Congress Wants to Know Cost of War
Dissatisfied With Pentagon Figures, Lawmakers Ask CBO for Estimates
By Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 22, 2002; Page A24
administration officials told Congress last week that a U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq would cost as little as $40 billion, but skeptical Democratic leaders asked
Capitol Hill's nonpartisan budget office for a second opinion.
from both parties have grown increasingly frustrated by what they see as the
White House's refusal to confront the financial cost of a new front in the war
on terrorism. Price tags have ranged from the Pentagon's $40 billion to as much
as $200 billion. Officials have even floated the idea that reconstruction costs
would be covered by the sale of Iraqi oil.
military experts and congressional staff say none of those estimates appears to
be based on rigorous analysis. "It goes back to the entire philosophy that
if you go to war, you worry about the bills later," said James W. Dyer,
Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.
Bill Clinton's Office of Management and Budget drafted detailed funding requests
for $5.8 billion just after NATO's 1999 attack on Yugoslavia, and included
estimates not only for the cost of fighting to expel Yugoslav forces from Kosovo
but also to rebuild the Serbian province.
administration has kept estimates vague and upbeat. Pentagon officials have told
Congress the cost could be $50 billion to $100 billion. But defense officials
also said it could be as little as half the $61 billion cost of the Persian Gulf
War of 1991, or $40 billion in current dollars. That suggests to Democrats that
the administration may be low-balling the cost to build support for an
enterprise that could involve long occupation and rebuilding, which is not
considered in the Pentagon figures.
need to be a lot more open about what the downside risks might be," said
Scott Lilly, the House Appropriations Committee's Democratic staff director.
for what they say will be a more objective analysis, Democrats on the House and
Senate Budget committees asked the Congressional Budget Office on Friday to
draft estimates for multiple fighting scenarios and durations.
estimate should be constructed and displayed in full recognition of the many
significant uncertainties that currently exist regarding how a military campaign
against Iraq might unfold, and what stabilization and reconstruction might
entail," wrote Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), ranking member of the
House Budget Committee, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate
portrayed the move as nonadversarial. "Congress is committed to providing
all the resources needed to safeguard America's national security," said
Thomas S. Kahn, Democratic staff director of the House Budget Committee. "We
need a CBO estimate because the cost of war means we may have to reconsider
other budget priorities."
White House says President Bush has made no decision about Iraq. Privately,
officials say realistic estimates are elusive because the size of the force has
not been determined and they are unsure how much other
nations would pay. Allies paid for all but about $7.5 billion of the Gulf War,
but officials expect the United States would have to shoulder much more of the
cost of a second confrontation.
War deployment included about 500,000 troops. The Pentagon is telling lawmakers
an Iraqi invasion would require about 250,000 troops, with Britain supplying as
many as 30,000. Pentagon planners also are developing what they are calling a
"light option" of 70,000 to 80,000 troops.
officials have been trying to reassure lawmakers, voters and other governments
about the cost of deposing Saddam Hussein. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill
told the Chamber of Commerce in Portland, Maine, last week: "Whatever it is
that's finally decided to be done, we will succeed and we can afford it."
OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. said any decision by Bush could be managed,
in part by "rotating resources from things that are of less than life and
death importance to meet the life and death imperatives of the moment."
what some of his colleagues consider a pessimistic estimate, White House
economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey told the Wall Street Journal in an
interview last week that an "upper bound" cost of a war would be
between 1 and 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. That translates to
$100 billion to $200 billion.
"Jack" Lew, who drafted the Kosovo budget as Clinton's budget director,
said that getting the number right is important for the debate ahead. "If
it's too low, it raises the question of whether you're willing to stick it
out," he said. "If it's too high, you raise the bar too high for
getting into the conflict."
members of both parties are questioning whether the potential cost of attacking
Iraq would make much difference in lawmakers' decisions, because Democrats have
become increasingly supportive of Bush's Iraq policy. Indeed, lawmakers fear
there could be a political backlash from even asking about cost. "We're all
just scared to death of this issue," a Democratic aide said.
handful of Democrats, such fears are infuriating. Nineteen House Democrats
announced their opposition to war in Iraq on Thursday, and Rep. Dennis J.
Kucinich (D-Ohio) promised that "dozens more" will follow. "My
constituents are being told this country cannot afford the cost of prescription
drugs for seniors," Kucinich said. "People are bound to begin asking
why can we afford this war."
experts say a detailed cost estimate is next to impossible now, and estimates on
previous conflicts have always been wrong. The Clinton administration's Kosovo
estimate was ultimately swallowed by the cost of one military debacle: the
failed effort to introduce Apache attack helicopters to the conflict. Even the
war in Afghanistan was expected to include a long, hard winter fight and a major
spring offensive against al Qaeda, said Andrew F. Krepinevich, executive
director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
and Capitol Hill analysts have concluded that some costs of the new
confrontation with Iraq would be higher than in 1991. The military would
undoubtedly use more expensive precision-guided munitions, for instance, and the
duration of the land war would be longer. Troop salaries and National Guard and
Army Reserve call-up costs would also be higher.
Feil, co-director of the Association of the U.S. Army's Post-Conflict
Reconstruction Project, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month
that keeping the peace after overthrowing Hussein would take 75,000 U.S. troops
and $16.2 billion a year. But actual rebuilding could be a wash, because
reconstruction could be funded by selling Iraqi oil, congressional and
independent experts said.
2002 The Washington Post Company
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