WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney hinted Sunday that the Bush administration would seek more money next year than the additional $87 billion already requested to pay mainly for postwar costs in Iraq.
He also said the administration does not know when the U.S. military presence in Iraq will end. "I don't think anybody can say with absolute certainty at this point," Cheney said.
Amid a rising U.S. casualty count in Iraq and continuing attacks and other resistance, the administration has faced criticism for its postwar strategy. Democratic presidential candidates and others have said too little planning was done on how to rebuild the country and how to pay for it.
The White House says it will soon ask Congress to approve the $87 billion for military and reconstruction activities both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with the bulk of the request earmarked for Iraq. That too has come under severe question in Congress.
The American public, meanwhile, appears uncomfortable with President Bush's request for the $87 billion, according to a new poll that shows six in 10 oppose the increased spending.
The ABC-Washington Post poll out Sunday shows 61 percent oppose spending the $87 billion in addition to the billions in earlier spending Congress provided for the war. Congress approved $79 billion in April for the Iraq operation.
A slight majority, 51 percent, had been opposed to the $87 billion in earlier polls that had asked simply whether they approved that request for Iraq or not.
Asked how the government should pay for the $87 billion if it is approved, four in 10 said elimination of recent tax cuts, almost three in 10, 28 percent, said cut spending, and two in 10, 19 percent, said increase the budget deficit.
Almost nine in 10, 85 percent, said they were concerned that the United States is going to get bogged down in Iraq in a long and costly peacekeeping mission. More than half, 53 percent, said they were very concerned.
Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if the $87 billion would be the final such request, Cheney replied: "I can't say that. It's all we think we'll need for the foreseeable future, for this year."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wouldn't go even that far. He said consultations are under way with lawmakers, and how long the $87 billion will last has not been determined.
"It's a process that's being handled by the president and the Office of Management and Budget," Rumsfeld said. "I think that after those consultations with Congress, we'll have the answer to your question."
"I think it's important to let the people who are engaging in that process define it."
Cheney defended the request.
"What's the cost if we don't act? What's the cost if we do nothing? What's the cost if we don't succeed with respect to our current operation in Iraq?" he asked. "I think that's far higher than getting the job done right here."
Despite doubts being aired about increasingly about the U.S. role in postwar Iraq, and the lack of international help, Cheney said the occupation is seeing "major success, major progress."
"We've achieved already, when you consider we've only been there about four months, a great deal, and we're well on our way to achieving our objectives," he said.
Most believe at least the military part of the $87 billion request will be approved even as lawmakers promise it will be greeted with tough questions.
"I intend to examine carefully what the president is asking for, what it will go for, how the money's going to be spent," Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., a Democratic presidential candidate, said on "Fox News Sunday."
"We need to support the troops, and we're going to support the troops. Exactly what amount that will take is a question that we've got to examine carefully."
Some Democrats have suggested that some of the recently enacted Bush-backed tax cuts be rolled back to help pay for the $87 billion.
But Cheney rejected that idea. "I think it would be a mistake," he said. "You can't look at that without considering what its impact would be on the economy."
Powell visits Baghdad
In Baghdad Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he is convinced "the winds of freedom are blowing" across Iraq but acknowledged the possibility that terrorists are trying to make their way into the country and sabotage the process toward self-rule.
Powell spent 12 hours in talks with the team of American officials guiding Iraq in the postwar period and with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
On his first visit to the nation that has dominated his attention since the early days of the Bush administration, Powell attended a Baghdad City Council meeting, met with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and joined the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, at a joint news conference.
He described impressive moves toward self-government and seemed invigorated by what he heard as he made his rounds.
"There is vibrancy to this effort, a vibrancy that I attribute to the winds of freedom that are now blowing through this land," he said after the city council meeting.
U.S. soldier killed
Another U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq on Sunday.
Insurgents also wounded three others outside the troubled city of Fallujah, a day after angry protesters fired weapons and called for violence against the American occupation to protest one of the most serious friendly fire incidents of the Iraq war.
Residents buried eight policemen Saturday who were killed when U.S. forces apparently mistook them for guerrilla fighters.
Bremer commented publicly on the incident Sunday for the first time, calling it regrettable and suggesting victims' families might be compensated.
"The very regrettable incident in Fallujah is still under investigation by our military. We have expressed regrets for it publicly," Bremer said at the news conference with Powell.
"When we have reached conclusions about how the incident came about, we'll take appropriate steps. In the past we have paid families … where we felt it was appropriate, but this incident is still under investigation."
The death of the U.S. soldier outside Fallujah brought to 155 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. During the heavy fighting before that date, 138 soldiers died.
In another development, dozens of U.S. troops raided homes near Tikrit's dangerous "RPG Alley" Monday, arresting five men suspected of helping to bankroll attacks against American troops in Saddam Hussein's hometown.
The pre-dawn raid was carried out against three homes located next to a highway that has seen 20 attacks with rocket propelled grenades, or RPG's, against the U.S. military in the past two weeks.