THREATS AND RESPONSES: THE COST; WHITE HOUSE CUTS ESTIMATE OF COST OF WAR WITH IRAQ By ELISABETH BUMILLER Published: December 31, 2002 The administration's top budget official estimated today that the cost of a war with Iraq could be in the range of $50 billion to $60 billion, a figure that is well below earlier estimates from White House officials. In a telephone interview today, the official, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, also said there was likely to be a deficit in the fiscal 2004 budget, though he declined to specify how large it would be. The administration is scheduled to present its budget to Congress on Feb. 3. Mr. Daniels would not provide specific costs for either a long or a short military campaign against Saddam Hussein. But he said that the administration was budgeting for both, and that earlier estimates of $100 billion to $200 billion in Iraq war costs by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush's former chief economic adviser, were too high. Mr. Daniels cautioned that his budget projections did not mean a war with Iraq was imminent, and that it was impossible to know what any military campaign against Iraq would ultimately cost. ''This is nothing more than prudent contingency planning,'' Mr. Daniels said from his home in Indianapolis, where he was reviewing the fiscal 2004 budget at his kitchen table. ''At this point there is no war.'' Mr. Daniels's projections place the cost of an Iraq war in line with that of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which cost more than $60 billion, or about $80 billion in current dollars. But the United States paid for only a small part of that conflict, with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan bearing the brunt of the costs. This time, the gulf nations are less supportive of the United States and, diplomats say, Americans are likely to bear most of the cost of a war with Iraq. Mr. Daniels declined to explain how budget officials had reached the $50 billion to $60 billion range for war costs, or why it was less in current dollars than the 43-day gulf war in 1991. He also declined to specify how much had been budgeted for munitions and troops. ''All of these are major costs,'' he said. The driving expense for the military in any war would be the size of the American force and the length of the conflict. In the 1991 war, 550,000 American troops were based in Saudi Arabia, which picked up the cost of virtually all housing, fuel and food. *snip* Just another reminder of the incompetence and downright deception of Mitch Daniels and the Bush Administration.