WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans and Democrats predicted yesterday
that Congress will approve the $87 billion President Bush wants for
Iraq and Afghanistan, but many said they would demand more details
on administration policy in both countries.

With relentless American casualties, a paucity of allied support
and a realization that the administration underestimated the
operation’s price tag, lawmakers seem emboldened to play a stronger
role in shaping the measure than they did when they quickly
approved an initial $79 billion package in April.

Democrats juxtaposed the proposal with Bush’s opposition to
added funds for American schools and other domestic programs. They
also voiced doubt that even $87 billion – nearly triple the
Homeland Security Department’s total budget – would be enough.

“Already facing a nearly half-trillion-dollar deficit, American
taxpayers deserve to know how this spending will affect our ability
to address the unmet needs in our own country,” said House Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

“This may not be Vietnam, but boy it sure smells like it,” Sen.
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on the Senate floor. “And every time I see
these bills coming down for the money, it’s costing like Vietnam,
too.”

Other Democrats, such as Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts,
were preparing to demand that as a condition for the money, Bush
would have to tell Congress his assessment of the size the U.S.
military commitment to Iraq and schedules for removing American
forces.

An amendment seeking such conditions seemed unlikely to pass the
Senate. But a debate over it could give Democrats an opportunity to
spend time criticizing Bush’s Iraq policy a year before the
presidential election.

Democrats were not alone in seeking answers.

Republican Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee said, “It’s a huge
number, and Congress needs to step up to its constitutional
responsibility to vet the request and put as many questions to the
president as we can.”

Wamp said he wanted ways to measure progress in rebuilding Iraq
and would push for U.S. investment there to be partly repaid by
revenue raised by Iraq’s oil industry.

The entire proposal would be paid for out of federal deficits
already expected to shatter previous records. In a briefing for
reporters, senior administration officials said they expected $50
billion to $60 billion of their plan to be spent next year – which
would bring the projected 2004 deficit to $525 billion to $535
billion.

In that same briefing, one official acknowledged that “the level
of decay and underinvestment in the Iraqi infrastructure was worse
than … almost anyone on the outside anticipated” earlier this
year.

Republican leaders, hoping to lay the groundwork for speedy work
by the GOP-run Congress, expressed support for the president’s
plan.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who spent much of
the day in his home state with Bush, said the proposal “warrants
the support of Congress.”

And House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.),
whose panel will help write Congress’ version, said he would
“aggressively expedite the president’s request” through the
committee.

But in a foreshadowing that it would take lawmakers longer than
the three weeks they needed to approve the $79 billion package in
April, some top Republicans said they didn’t expect Bush to send a
formal, detailed request to Congress until next week. And GOP
committee chairmen spoke of holding hearings on the proposal so
administration officials can be asked questions.

“People will have an opportunity to vet” the request, Senate
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said in
a brief interview.

“But life goes on, and we really need to go ahead with the
president’s plan,” Lugar said.

Five months after Congress approved the earlier money, lawmakers
of both parties are chafing over the scant detail the
administration has provided over how the funds have been used.

The White House said that of the $87 billion, $66 billion would
be for U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and
elsewhere.

Of that, $51 billion would be for supporting what the document
called “a robust force in Iraq” of U.S. and multinational forces,
and to repair and replace equipment.

Currently there are about 140,000 U.S. troops in the
country.

The money was to include an unspecified amount to allow U.S.
troops in Iraq for a year to get two weeks of leave, $300 million
for body armor and $140 million for “Humvee” vehicles.

An additional $20 billion was to help rebuild Iraq – $5 billion
to set up an Iraqi army, a police force and other security, and $15
billion to rebuild drinking water and electrical systems, railroad
lines and other facilities.

The reconstruction request ranged from $6 billion to buttress
the country’s electric power supply to $300 million for private
sector business initiatives and job training.

Overall, the paper said, initial estimates were that rebuilding
the country would take $50 billion to $75 billion.

The administration is hoping the costs can be split about evenly
between U.S. taxpayers, allied countries and funds from Iraqi oil
sales, said one GOP congressional aide.

In their briefing with reporters, the administration officials
said they expect Iraqi oil sales to produce $12 billion next year,
and $20 billion each of the two succeeding years.

The request included an additional $11 billion for U.S. military
efforts in Afghanistan, and $1.2 billion – including $400 million
provided in earlier legislation – to help rebuild that country’s
infrastructure and security forces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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