Shaking the government money tree 

Can we have it all? War, corn and prescription drugs, too? Two of Montana’s representatives in Congress think so, despite the ocean of red ink on which the nation finds itself afloat.

The costs of reconstruction and occupation of Iraq continue to grow, as do political promises of more money for domestic programs.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office announced, to relatively little fanfare, that $1.5 billion of the $4 billion being spent on the Iraq war each month could not be accounted for. Only Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy made mention of the missing money, speculating that it is being used to bribe unnamed world leaders for their pledge of future troop support in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Congress approved a $79 billion emergency spending bill for the war, as well as a $180 billion farm subsidy bill.

Now the president has appealed to Congress for $87 billion next year to continue the occupation and begin the reconstruction of Iraq.

With the war on Iraq turning into a costly debacle, both financially and in terms of lives lost, Montanans may wonder how their representatives will vote on the president’s request. Sen. Conrad Burns will likely vote in favor because, he says, “The cost of freedom cannot have a price tag and we will do what we must to win this war.” He did not say whether the request was affordable, but Rep. Dennis Rehberg did. Though Rehberg did not commit to a yes or no answer, he says his sense is that Congress will approve the request, and that it is affordable, despite the $562 billion budget deficit the Bush administration projects for next year. Nevertheless, says Rehberg, we can have it all—occupation and reconstruction in Iraq and a Medicare drug benefit, which Rehberg calls a number one priority for Congress. A limited version of that legislation, now being considered by Congress, will cost the nation an estimated $400 billion over 10 years.

Sen. Max Baucus did not respond to a request for an interview.

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