The Bush administration is warning Congress of potential layoffs at the Department of Defense if they do not approve a $108 billion funding package for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of next month. But lawmakers are demanding more accountability over the war funds and more attention be spent on domestic initiatives, signaling a tough battle ahead for the White House, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
White House Budget Director Jim Nussle told the Senate Appropriations Committee that there could be layoffs at the Defense Department if Congress does not approve funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May.
"The timely consideration of the bill is as important as its contents," he said.
But Senate Democrats say the administration is asking for the funding at a time when the U.S. economy is in serious trouble. They argue the administration has refused to raise taxes to fund the wars, and is paying for them through the public debt, a practice that Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, says must stop.
"The debt is now at what $9 trillion and going up," she said. "I think it is a real problem for the survival of the nation in a healthy way. I think it is going to be very hard to vote for a $108 billion emergency supplemental that puts that amount on the debt."
The committee chairman, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, took issue with the $3 billion the administration wants for Iraq reconstruction, saying that request is coming at the expense of the needs of American cities.
"The president wants money to build schools in Sadr City, but not in Seattle," he said. "Why does he demand money for roads in Ramadi, but nothing for roads in Richmond? Why, why I say, does he want money for Mosul, but not one thin dime for Minneapolis? Why is he determined to reconstruct Baghdad, but nothing for Baltimore, Biloxi, or Birmingham?"
Other lawmakers wanted to know why U.S. taxpayers were being asked to pay for Iraq reconstruction at a time when that country is enjoying a budget surplus.
Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, proposed that Iraq spend $1 for every $1 the United States spends on rebuilding the country.
"It does seem to me that Iraq is not bearing a fair portion of the load here, especially in light of its surpluses," he said.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate who voted against authorizing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said he may vote against the supplemental following years of supporting funding for the war.
"For the longest time I voted to fund it, believing that was the only way to do the right thing for the troops and bring it to a conclusion," he said. "And now I have reached a different conclusion. Sending a blank check to this president for this war is going to prolong the killing, prolong the deaths, the injuries that will return."
But the top Republican on the committee, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, had a very different view.
"There is no doubt that the continued delay in the approval of the requested funds for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is putting in jeopardy the opportunities to help bring peace and stability to that region," he said.
Budget Director Nussle again warned Congress that the president would veto the war-funding bill if lawmakers added spending for domestic programs.