CBO: $368B Deficit – Without Iraq

Federal budget deficit AP

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting this year's deficit at $368 billion – a near record number, but one that will surely rise, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss. That's because the estimate, along with a broader 10-year projection, doesn't include the cost of the war in Iraq or the costs associated with President Bush's proposed changes for Social Security.

The numbers come on the same day President Bush is asking Congress for another $80 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – money the administration has consistently refused to put in the regular federal budget.

Congress approved $25 billion for the wars last summer. The newest request would push the totals provided for the conflicts and worldwide efforts against terrorism past $300 billion — including $25 billion for rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have talked about how we would be coming back for additional resources for our troops," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday.

The CBO is predicting that even without those expenses the government will accumulate another $855 billion in deficits over the next decade.

The projection, for the years 2006 through 2015, is almost two-thirds smaller than what congressional budget analysts predicted last fall. But the drop is largely due to estimating quirks that required it to exclude future Iraq and Afghanistan war costs and other expenses. Last September, their 10-year deficit estimate was $2.3 trillion.

The CBO projection of a $368 billion shortfall for this year was close to the $348 billion deficit for 2005 it forecast last fall. If the estimate proves accurate, it would be the third-largest deficit ever in dollar terms, behind only last year's $412 billion and the $377 billion gap of 2003.

Besides lacking war costs, the budget office's deficit estimates also omitted the price tags of Mr. Bush's goal of revamping Social Security, which could cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion and dominate this year's legislative agenda; an estimated $1.8 trillion price tag of extending Mr. Bush's tax cuts and easing the impact the alternative minimum tax would have on middle-income Americans; and other expenses.

Those omissions prompted Democrats to warn about the deficit forecasts.

"Whatever we get" Tuesday from the budget office "needs considerable adjustment before it is brought back to reality," said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Mr. Bush won't send the war financing package to Congress until after he unveils his full 2006 budget on Feb. 7, congressional aides said.

White House officials declined to comment on the war package, which will come as the United States confronts continued violence in Iraq leading up to that country's Jan. 30 elections.

Aides said about three-fourths of the $80 billion was expected to be for the Army, which is bearing the brunt of the fighting in Iraq. It also was expected to include money for building a U.S. embassy in Baghdad, estimated to cost $1.5 billion.

One aide said the request will also include funds to help the new Afghan government combat drug trafficking. It might also have money to help two new leaders the U.S. hopes will be allies, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko.

The aides said the package Mr. Bush eventually submits to Congress will also include money to help Indian Ocean countries hit by the devastating December tsunami.

The forthcoming request highlights how much war spending has soared past initial White House estimates. Early on, then-presidential economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey placed Iraq costs at $100 billion to $200 billion, only to see his comments derided by administration colleagues.

By pushing war spending so far beyond $300 billion, the latest proposal would approach nearly half the $613 billion the United States spent for World War I or the $623 billion it expended for the Vietnam War, when the costs of those conflicts are translated into 2005 dollars.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday it was Congress' "highest responsibility" to provide the money that American troops need. But in a written statement, she said Democrats would ask questions about the president's goals in Iraq, the eventual costs, and why Iraqi troops aren't playing a larger role in security.

The White House had not been expected to reveal details of the war package until after the release of the full budget.

But lawmakers, as they did last year, want to include war costs in the budgets they will write. They argue that withholding the war costs from Mr. Bush's budget would open it to criticism that it was an unrealistic document, one aide said. Last year, the spending plan omitted war expenditures and received just that critique.
  • Joel Roberts

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