ARLINGTON, Va. — The Bush administration is taking the same approach to defense spending in fiscal 2006 it began with the 2004 budget: presenting a “baseline” request to Congress that is only slightly different from the previous year, but adding billions more with a supplemental request to cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressional Democrats have been critical of the Bush administration’s ongoing use of supplementals to fund the war, saying the requests make it easier for defense officials to avoid congressional oversight of war spending and play a shell game with defense spending.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved $203 billion in supplemental requests. If the latest request is approved, that goes up to $280 billion.

But defense officials defend the practice, saying that the security situation in Iraq, especially, is so unpredictable that using the regular budget to fund the operation would be too restrictive.

Because supplemental requests are put together much more quickly than regular budgets, defense officials said they have more flexibility to move and add money as conditions on the ground change.

“We are bearing, clearly, the heavy burden in this war,” a senior Army budget official said Friday. “The base budget would not allow us to mobilize our forces.”

“We can be more accurate in our estimates,” another official added. “It’s not hiding anything.”

Some analysts disagree.

“The war is not a surprise anymore,” said Steve Kosiak, a top analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington. “We know we’re going to be there. Not [budgeting] for war costs is really inexcusable at this point.

“This administration came into office saying they would not play all these games with supplementals, but they’ve crossed the line, I’d say,” he said.

The supplemental request will pay for all the costs associated with Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, including the salaries of an additional 18,000 active-duty soldiers who are now on the payroll; the cost of refurbishing equipment lost or worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan; the ammunition expended by U.S. troops in those countries; and equipping, housing, feeding and entertaining deployed troops.

But the supplemental also will pay for more than just direct war costs. Army officials are counting on receiving $5 billion in the upcoming request to create and equip three new combat brigade teams — the service’s new self-sufficient, lighter, high-tech “transformational” unit with about 4,000 soldiers.

Paying for the three new brigade combat teams in the supplemental is kosher, an Army official said, even though the units will be a permanent part of the Army, not just something cobbled together in response to the Iraq or Afghanistan operations.

“These are forces we are deploying to the battle space,” the official said. When Army units return from Iraq rotations, “we are resetting them [as BCTs] to go right back into the war.”

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