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Frist Eyes Doubling Iraq Funds

Seeking to head off the need to pass more funding for Iraq in the hectic opening days of the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is weighing an increase in this year’s Iraq war funding from $25 billion to $50 billion.

The nascent proposal, however, has already run into naysayers in both the House and Senate.

A senior aide to Frist said Tuesday that there is a “school of thought” that Congress should double the administration’s request to amend its 2005 budget request by $25 billion to pay for unexpected expenses in Iraq.

Giving the Iraq war more funding would ensure that the incoming 109th Congress would not have to quickly approve more war funds in January, said Eric Ueland, Frist’s deputy chief of staff.

“We shouldn’t be scrambling up here for another $25 [billion],” said Ueland. “That’s a pretty sloppy situation.”

Ueland pointed out that, even if Republicans continue to control the Senate in the 109th Congress, there would be a nearly wholesale shift of committee chairmen because of internal GOP term limits. The Senate also will likely be embroiled in committee funding fights with Democrats and have a presidential inauguration for which to plan. All of that would make it more difficult to swiftly pass a new spending bill, Ueland said.

Ueland was quick to deny that the plan arose out of fears that Republicans might lose the presidential or Congressional elections this November.

The $50 billion number comes from previous Bush administration estimates of the cost of the war during fiscal 2005. The House-passed budget resolution assumed that $50 billion would be spent on the war, while the Senate version would have established a $30 billion reserve fund.

However, many Republicans said they were not aware of the plan to go above the $25 billion budget amendment requested by the White House last week.

Senate GOP Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said he had not heard of the plan, but said it might be wise to wait for the administration to send up its specific request for the $25 billion, which could come as early as this week.

“I think we really need to take a look at what the administration says we need,” Kyl said.

Similarly, House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said the Bush administration has assured appropriators that the $25 billion would last until April 2005, at which time, President Bush, assuming he wins re-election, would request an emergency supplemental spending bill for the balance of the year.

Scofield also said he “discounted” the idea that Congress would be too busy setting itself up to deal with a supplemental spending bill. He noted that incoming Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who is expected to take over the gavel from current Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was a “seasoned appropriator” and have no problem quickly getting a bill out of committee.

A spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, also brushed aside the proposal.

“It’s far too premature,” said Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin.

There were a few Members who appeared interested in the notion of handing out all the money for the Iraq war this year, instead of in a piecemeal fashion.

“It’s something we’ll have to look at so we won’t be faced with a shortfall,” said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) agreed that the idea should at least be considered.

“It’s something we should seriously look at,” Hagel said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he had heard rumors of plans to increase Iraq war funding to $75 billion, but he said he was wary of giving the administration a blank check.

“We’re going to need more money, but I don’t think we should just open a funnel like we did before,” Reid said.

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