With two full years of experience waging war in Iraq, President George W. Bush should have some idea of how much it will cost to continue the fight next year.
But when he submitted his 2006 budget to Congress in February, it didn't contain one penny for combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Sunny optimist that he is, Bush wasn't operating on the assumption that the mission would actually be accomplished by then.
Instead, Bush insisted it would be impossible to know how much would be needed, so instead of including anything in the regular budget, he plans to continue the tradition of coming to Congress for emergency supplemental appropriations when war funds get low.
Coincidentally, that approach has the side effect of making the federal budget deficit appear smaller than it actually is. Far smaller, considering that spending in Iraq has averaged more than $5 billion a month.
Shortly after he submitted his 2006 budget, Bush went to Congress to ask for $82 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (most of which was for Iraq).
So far, Bush has asked for, and received, about $350 billion for combat and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in a federal budget measured in the trillions of dollars, that's a substantial amount to keep off the budget.
Congress is showing increasing signs of impatience with such irresponsible bookkeeping. After Bush submitted his 2006 budget, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V., persuaded his colleagues to pass a resolution calling for the war funding to be included in the regular budget.
"The president will not tell the American people what the war in Iraq will cost," Byrd said. "By understating the deficits, the American people are being led down a primrose path. That is dishonesty."
The U.S. House appears ready to include $45 billion to fund the wars in its regular spending bills for next year. The Senate is likely to do the same, even without a request from the Pentagon.
If Bush won't honestly budget for the cost of these wars, Congress is right to do it for him.
The war in Iraq has a real cost, and a real impact on the federal deficit. Budgeting for that cost should not be an impossible task.
In fact, it's the least the nation should expect from the president who got us into this mess to begin with.
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