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US lawmakers backing Bush's US$87b war request
( 2003-09-09 10:19) (Agencies)

Republicans and Democrats predicted Monday 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."

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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