The escalating cost of the war in Iraq has helped push the federal deficit to a record $427 billion this year. The Congressional Budget Office made the new budget forecast Tuesday as the White House announced it would seek $80 billion more to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the new request, the White House has now sought over $280 billion for the two wars. When one of President Bush’s most prominent economic advisors, Lawrence Lindsey estimated before the Iraq war that the cost could reach as high as $200 billion, he was forced out of his job. Before the Iraq invasion, the White House estimated the war would cost between $50 and $60 billion.
On the floor of the Senate Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers were unusually harsh in their criticism for the Bush administration’s war plans in Iraq and particularly Secretary of State nominee Condoleeza Rice. Senator Robert Byrd said “Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used to scare the American people.” Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota said “I really don’t like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally. It’s wrong; it’s undemocratic; it’s un-American; and it’s very dangerous.”
Meanwhile Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia warned Democrats to “be careful” about criticizing Rice. He went on to say such detractors are doing “a great disservice to this country” because publicly raising such criticism might diminish Rice’s credibility around the world as secretary of state. The Senate is expected to vote on Rice’s nomination today.
Also on Capitol Hill today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. Both the Washington Post and New York Times ran editorials today calling for the Senate to reject Gonzales’ nomination. The Post editorial reads in part: According to President Bush’s closest legal adviser, this administration continues to assert its right to indefinitely hold foreigners in secret locations without any legal process; to deny them access to the International Red Cross; to transport them to countries where torture is practiced; and to subject them to treatment that is “cruel, inhumane or degrading,” even though such abuse is banned by an international treaty that the United States has ratified.” The Post editorial goes on to say, “In effect, Mr. Gonzales has confirmed that the Bush administration is violating human rights as a matter of policy.”
Gonzales however did win the endorsement Tuesday of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the country.
Meanwhile Gonzales came under more scrutiny Tuesday when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the State Bar of Texas requesting an investigation into misrepresentations Gonzales made in a written response to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The complaint alleges that Gonzales inaccurately portrayed what happened when he appeared before a Texas court in 1996 representing Bush who was then Governor of Texas. Newsweek reports that Gonzales was in court to ask a judge to strike Bush from jury duty, claiming, that as governor, Bush might one day be asked to pardon the defendant. The judge reportedly found the argument QUOTE “extremely unlikely” but allowed Bush off jury duty. Had Bush been on the jury he would have been forced to disclose the fact that he had been arrested for drunk driving in Maine in 1976. The arrest remained secret until just days before the 2000 election.
In other news from Washington, Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California plans to introduce a congressional resolution today calling on President Bush to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Woolsey said “The military option is clearly not working. It is truly time to support the troops, by bringing them home as soon as realistically possible.” The Bush administration has given no sign that a withdrawal will occur anytime soon. On Monday a top Army official said 120,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq thru 2006. The New York Times reports today that part of the $80 billion requested by Bush for the war will likely be spent on creating permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.
In news from Iraq, seven people have died in a series of car bombings around the northern city of Kirkuk. The attacks come four days before the national elections.
The International Crisis Group is set to issue a report today warning that if provincial elections are held Sunday they could set off an ethnic war around Kirkuk. If the Kurds sweep the elections for regional council, the report warns that Turkey might be tempted to intervene in order to protect the city’s ethnic Turkmen population. In other Iraq news, at least eight polling stations across the country were attacked today by rockets, mortar shells and bombs. Political offices were also targeted.
In western Iraq, US Marines have launched a search and rescue operation following the crash of a U.S. helicopter. Post-Show Update: 31 Marines have reportedly died in the crash making it the deadliest incident to date for U.S. forces in Iraq. The military says bad weather caused the crash.]
High ranking Israeli and Palestinian officials met today for the first time since the Palestinian election. Today’s meeting is seen as a lead up to a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Gen. Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. It has also been reported that Israel has agreed to stop the targeted killing of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
City officials in Washington DC have agreed to pay out $425,000 in settlements to seven people swept up in mass arrests during a demonstration against the World Bank in September 2002. The money will be split between 5 protesters and two bystanders one of whom is now an attorney with the Justice Department. Hundreds of other people were arrested at the time but are not covered under the settlement. Three other lawsuits are still pending. Police now admit they made the mass arrests without ever giving an order to disperse to people in the park.
The Washington Post is reporting that it has found another conservative pundit was on the government payroll without ever disclosing the contract to the public. The White House paid syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher $21,500 for consulting and ghostwriting related to the Bush administration’s efforts to promote the sanctity of marriage. Gallagher is president of the Washington-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and a frequent television guest. Her writings on marriage have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard. After being outted by the Post, Gallagher wrote QUOTE “I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it.” Earlier this month is was disclosed prominent conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000 to promote the controversial No Child Left Behind legislation on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other African-American journalists to do the same.