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Democrats Want More Accountability for Iraq Spending

President Bush's request to Congress for $82 billion dollars in additional funding for military and reconstruction needs in Iraq and Afghanistan is receiving scrutiny on Capitol Hill. This comes amid growing concern among lawmakers about examples of waste, fraud and abuse in how funds were spent in Iraq.

There is little if any disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about the need for the extra money needed to support U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republicans in control of Congress plan to move the $82 billion dollar war supplemental quickly, while subjecting it to what they call the right level of scrutiny.

Congressman Jerry Lewis of California, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, says this will include tough questions, but predicts the bill will be ready for full House consideration in March, and on President Bush's desk by early April.

Senior Bush administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testify to Congress this week about the spending request.

While Democrats are careful to underscore their support for U.S. troops, they insist the Bush administration should be held to a higher level of accountability.

"We have got a responsibility as a Congress, to the taxpayers and to the country, and to the objective of success [in Iraq] in assuring that money is spent effectively and applied to the objectives for which it is appropriated," said Congressman Steny Hoyer.

Some conservative and moderate House Democrats have proposed legislation called the War Funding Accountability Act.

It would require President Bush to report every 90 days on political and reconstruction planning and progress in Iraq, including details on how funds are being used for military training and other needs, and the involvement of private contractors.

California Democrat Mike Thompson is the chief sponsor.

"Any failure to adopt an accountability process toward this supplemental spending we have been doing in regard to the war[s] in Iraq and Afghanistan is a real slap in the face of the taxpayers of this country, it's a slap in the face that comes at the expense of our troops who are in harm's way," he said.

Lawmakers like to say that support for the troops is not a Democratic or Republican issue. However, politics is playing a role.

Democrats complain the Bush administration has used supplemental spending requests since U.S. forces went into Iraq to hide the true scale of war costs.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, widely respected for her role in intelligence and military issues, calls the War Funding Accountability Act an attempt to return transparency to the military funding process.

"Using the war on terror as an excuse to move most of our current defense expenditures off budget, I think is wrong-headed and needs to be corrected,” she added. “We're not just in a war on terror, we are in an era of terror and regular spending [submitted by the President] should include most of these monies."

Since 2001, Congress has approved $231 billion dollars for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. An analysis by House Democrats says winning the war against the insurgency in Iraq could end up costing between $461 billion and $646 billion dollars.

Meanwhile, hearings continue into allegations of mismanagement and waste of funds in Iraq.

"I think what is happening here is disgraceful, I think there is massive waste of taxpayer funding," said Senate Democrat Byron Dorgan.

The War Funding Accountability Act is unlikely to be approved as a separate measure by the Republican-controlled House, so Democrats will try to make it an amendment to the Iraq supplemental bill.

Among other things, the bill proposes to withhold money for reconstruction until the Bush administration provides the extensive reports to Congress detailed in the legislation.