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Bush wants $75B for war
President tells lawmakers he will seek the funds to cover initial costs related to the war in Iraq.
March 24, 2003: 8:23 PM EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Bush Monday gave key lawmakers the administration's first estimate of the cost of war with Iraq -- about $75 billion, according to members of Congress who attended a White House briefing.

That figure was calculated to cover 30 days of combat, said administration aides. The figure does not include any money for Iraq's reconstruction, and congressional aides and lawmakers said the pending request by the administration will likely be the first of several. Bush's estimate also does not include funds for airlines seeking billions of dollars in federal assistance to keep flying through the latest downturn.

"There's more to come. We've got to level with the American people," said Sen. Robert Byrd of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On a day driven by developments with the war, Bush also spoke by phone Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and expressed concerns over what the White House described as "disturbing" illegal Russian sales of sophisticated military equipment to Iraq.

"This clearly is a problem that needs to be resolved," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said at a briefing with reporters. He said Putin assured Bush he would look into the matter.

The White House, meanwhile, signaled its optimism about the military campaign to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- an assessment that follows the worst day for U.S. casualties.

"There have been setbacks, there have been casualties," said Fleischer. "Yesterday was a tough day. But when you take a look at the overall plan, as the president has made repeatedly clear, we are indeed making progress."

On the matter of the Russian sales of military equipment to Iraq, administration officials said the sales include night-vision goggles, anti-tank weapons and equipment that can jam the global positioning satellite systems the United States uses to direct its new generation of "smart" bombs and other munitions.

"We do have concerns that some aspects of this may be ongoing," said Fleischer. Even as he emphasized the "U.S.-Russia partnership," he added.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to Washington this week to meet with Bush and discuss strategy for the war in Iraq, according to administration and diplomatic sources. The meeting is all but certain to take place at Camp David, and could be as early as Thursday, according to people familiar with the case.

An official announcement of the trip will be made in the next day or so.

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Bush had lunch Monday with the military's top officers to discuss the war and briefed key members of Congress on the emergency war budget request.

Byrd said the breakdown for the request, as outlined by the White House was: $63 billion for defense for the war itself, $4.2 billion for homeland security and $8 billion for foreign aid and humanitarian aid.

Additionally, some lawmakers want to boost the supplemental request to cover other items, such as help for the ailing airline industry. And Democratic leaders want more money for homeland security, saying what the administration has proposed is inadequate.

The administration wants the bill passed by April 11, said Byrd.

The president plans to formally unveil the spending request Tuesday at the Pentagon, and then he will travel to Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday to meet with military personnel involved in managing the Iraqi war effort.

The appearances are part of an effort by the White House to elevate the president's public profile to offer encouragement and thanks to U.S. troops, and to remind Americans that the war in Iraq may turn out to be longer and more perilous than some have anticipated.

In a related matter, the White House suggested a new Iraqi TV videotape showing Saddam appears to have been recorded some time ago.

"Reviewing the tape does not lead anybody to the conclusion that this is something fresh," said Fleischer.

Disputing the confidence voiced by the Iraqi leader in the statement, the senior administration official said, "It is clear Saddam Hussein is losing control over his country."

The lunch with the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the military brass -- offered Bush a chance to talk directly to the top commanders about the war effort. But these officers have a small direct operating role in the military campaign now under way, although the Joint Chiefs chairman, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, is a key Pentagon player in media briefings and interviews.

It also comes at the beginning of a week in which senior aides said Bush will make a number of public appearances, including his announced stops at the Pentagon and Central Command headquarters. The latter is most likely to include a visit to a U.S. military base involved in the Iraq war effort.

The senior official said the emergency budget request -- formally known as a supplemental budget request for this fiscal 2003 budget year -- will be sent to Congress later this week.  Top of page

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