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War costs stand out in president’s budget

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KAI RYSSDAL: The fossil fuel-driven U.S. economy is humming right along. If Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke could snap his fingers and conjure up the perfect recovery, it might look a lot like what’s happening right now. A growing economy without much inflation.

The January unemployment report came out this morning. There were a decent number of new jobs, about 110,000 in all. The unemployment rate ticked up a tenth percent to 4.6 percent. But wages didn’t go up much, which Bernanke and company will read as inflation still not being a huge problem.

There are inflationary pressures at the White House, though. The president’s due to release his 2008 budget on Monday. Attached to it will be a second supplemental request for this year’s war expenses. Another $93 billion. Add to that the 70 billion Congress has already approved and 2007 becomes far and away the most expensive year yet for the war. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports on the numbers with all those zeroes behind them.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Members of Congress complain this is the fourth year the White House has paid for the war thru emergency budget requests. Steve Kosiak is a military budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He says the White House is sneaking in non-emergency items in the supplemental requests.

STEVE KOSIAK: There’s some concern these war-related spending measures are starting to include funding for weapons systems — like the joint-strike fighter for example — that really are part of the Administration’s long-term defense plans and not really war-related costs.

But for next year, at least, the White House seems to have gotten the message. It’s giving in to congressional demands that it start funding the war using the regular budget process. For 2008, the Administration is asking for $145 billion. Not enough, according to Lawrence Korb at the Center for American Progress.

LAWRENCE KORB: I think it sounds way low. Unless the President is going to call off his surge. As the Congressional Budget Office pointed out yesterday, the president’s surge or increase of 21,500 troops is only combat troops. If you put support troops in there, that number is probably doubled. Which means the costs that the president estimated is going to be much more than he told us.

Korb suspects the president might be low-balling the estimate for 2008 in order to bypass congressional war critics.

KORB: Then he can come back during the fiscal year and ask for more and the Congress will be put in the uncomfortable position of not funding ongoing operations.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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