Word of the huge request, almost twice the amount lawmakers expected, came from Capitol Hill following a meeting of the president's national security advisers. The White House wasn't talking about it and neither was the secretary of state.
"I'm not prepared to get into any numbers and compare new numbers to old numbers," said Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday.
It's a sensitive issue for the administration, which is already under fire for having no plan for postwar Iraq. And the new budget request comes at a time when the economy is under heavy stress.
"It shows that it's much more difficult than they thought and it just gets worse and worse, and the symbol of that is asking for more money," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.
In other developments:
Spending on the war is already cutting back money for the president's domestic priorities. But President Bush, campaigning in Kansas City for his economic program, presented the expense of the occupation as a necessity in the fight against terror.
"Our military campaigns in the war on terror have cost our treasury and our economy, yet they have prevented greater costs,'" he told an audience of business leaders.
But Democrats are prepared for a showdown with the administration over any funding beyond that required for the safety of U.S. troops.
"When there are additional costs that come from bad policy and bad planning, we have to subject it to harsh scrutiny," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Democrats also see a political opening. Unless he turns things around quickly, Mr. Bush could be vulnerable not only on the economy but on his war leadership as well.
The administration is facing trouble on the diplomatic front, too. France and Germany refused Thursday to support a U.S. draft resolution that would spread the burden of running postwar Iraq, but said they believed a compromise was possible.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder demanded that Washington give the United Nations more influence in Iraq's political future. Their stance threatened to reopen a barely healed trans-Atlantic rift over their ardent opposition to the Iraq war.
Secretary Powell said the U.S. welcomed "constructive input," but insisted the plan already addressed France and Germany's concerns.
Under the draft resolution circulated Wednesday at the U.N., Washington seeks money and troops from other countries but would not cede political or military control in Iraq.
Chirac seemed particularly critical of the U.S. initiative and was adamant that the draft foresee the United States' giving up control of the political process in Iraq. France is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, meaning it has veto power over council actions.
Yet Chirac and Schroeder, meeting in Dresden for informal consultations, struck a conciliatory note. They said they saw a chance to negotiate a compromise at the United Nations, where talks over the draft are expected to be tough and lengthy.
Schroeder also said the proposal fell short, but welcomed it as "showing there is some movement."
Elsewhere, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Thursday he would not rule out sending peacekeepers to Iraq as part of an international force, a strong signal that Moscow's stance was edging closer to Washington's.
"It all depends on a specific resolution. I wouldn't exclude it outright," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
France, Russia, India and other countries, including Arab nations, have ruled out contributing soldiers to Iraq unless the United Nations authorizes a a multinational force.
Germany has said it is ready in principle to help rebuild Iraq but has no plans for a military engagement in Iraq.
Syria, a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq and the only Arab member of the Security Council, cautiously welcomed the U.S. proposal, saying it should be looked at positively. But the commentary on state-controlled Damascus Radio also called the draft "inadequate" for insisting on keeping U.S. military control of postwar Iraq and refusing to give the United Nations a "full role."