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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's some numbers for you: President Bush says he needs another $46 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In total, he's asking Congress for more than $196 billion to fund the wars through the end of the current fiscal year which began on October 1st. If approved, the total price tag for the Iraq war -this is going back now to 2003 - the total price tag will exceed $600 billion which would make it the second most expensive war in the history of the United States.

NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz reports from the Pentagon.

GUY RAZ: Annual spending for the wars will hit an all-time high in 2008. Part of the reason, say the White House and the Pentagon, is because of the unanticipated costs associated with the so-called surge of additional troops.

So yesterday, President Bush, mindful of his detractors in Congress, presented the new budget request as an all or nothing proposition.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I often here that war critics oppose my decisions but still support the troops. I ought to take them at their word, and this is the chance for them to show it.

RAZ: For the past year, the Pentagon's line on defense spending has been simple: It's still way too low.

Here's Secretary Robert Gates, for example, back in February.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Secretary of Defense, United States): The amount of money the United States has projected to spend on defense this year is actually a smaller percentage of GDP and when I left government 14 years ago, following the end of the Cold War.

RAZ: And here's Marine Commandant James Conway talking about defense spending in a recent speech.

General JAMES CONWAY (Commandant of the Marine Corps, United States): Right now, we're at something less than 4 percent of the Gross National Product.

RAZ: Now, what gates and Conway are saying is a bit misleading. U.S. defense spending may only account for four percent of the GDP, but in actual dollar figures adjusted for inflation, it's higher than it's been at any other time since the Second World War.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HELLMAN (Military Policy Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation): We're spending more than the Cold War average at this point. And as far as the high point of the Cold War, yes, we're exceeding that.

RAZ: This is Christopher Hellman with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He notes that today, defense spending accounts for nearly $700 billion a year or about a third of the total U.S. federal budget.

Mr. HELLMAN: We were spending almost a trillion dollars a year in 1945 which was really the height of our spending.

RAZ: A truly and adjusted for - in today's dollars.

Mr. HELLMAN: Right. Adjusted in today's dollars. We're now spending almost three quarters of that.

RAZ: Now, if you were to take just the money spent on the Iraq war since 2003 then keep in mind this doesn't include total defense spending - just Iraq -your share of the cost is…

Mr. GREG SPEETER (Founder and Executive Director, National Priorities Project): About $5,500.

RAZ: That's the figure Greg Speeter has come up with. He is with the National Priorities Project, a group that supports lower defense spending. He notes that total defense spending now costs the average tax payer about $4,500 a year or to put it in perspective…

Mr. SPEETER: It costs the city of Washington D.C. over a million dollars a day every day since the war began.

RAZ: …which very soon will make the Iraq war more expensive than Vietnam.

Guy Raz, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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