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Dems challenge Bush on Iraq spending

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KAI RYSSDAL: Mortgage industry reform and a Bear Stearns post-mortem used up most of the oxygen on Capitol Hill this week. But come Monday national security’s going to be firmly back on the agenda. Today Democratic leaders sent the President a letter asking for more withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq. They maintain the White House is costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars despite urgent needs here at home. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports the letter is just the latest step in the fight over spending for the war on terror.

JOHN DIMSDALE: The Pentagon is preparing to ask Congress for another $102 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. That five-month bill is on top of nearly $700 billion appropriated over the past six years.

Most of the war’s funding has come from so-called emergency supplemental bills outside the normal Defense Department budgets. This time, the Pentagon brass and members of Congress are planning to include spending for more general military operations, like a new fighter plane and military base construction in the U.S.

Steven Kosiak at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says there are plenty of incentives to put these extra items in the war supplemental.

Steven KOSIAK: It is considered sort of must-pass legislation. It’s for the troops. It doesn’t get the same level of scrutiny as the regular defense appropriations bill does. It’s considered emergency spending. It doesn’t have the same political connotations in terms of adding to the deficit and things like that.

Despite opposition to the war, Congress is expected to OK the extra spending before Memorial Day. Democrats are considering limiting reconstruction aid to Iraq, arguing growing oil revenue means Iraqis can afford their own rebuilding.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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