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US Congress to Endorse War Budget - 2003-03-25

Congressional appropriators say they will move quickly to get President Bush's war budget request through the House of Representatives and the Senate. At the same time, lawmakers say tough questions will be asked about long term plans for reconstruction in Iraq.

When he announced his request to pay for initial costs of the war to disarm Iraq, President Bush said Congress had to act quickly, and do it with a minimum of bi-partisan discord.

Tuesday, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Congressman Bill Young, said he intends to keep a House bill as close to the president's $74.7 billion figure as possible, and do it by Mr. Bush's deadline of April 11.

Republican congressman Jim Kolbe, a member of the appropriations committee, says that timetable will be difficult, but achievable. He also says the administration is fully committed to Iraq's reconstruction.

"I think it's very much on the minds of people, and I think of this administration, I think they're very cognizant of the commitments they made in Afghanistan, and the commitments that we have made here to make sure the people are fed, and that we get the country [Iraq] back on its feet as rapidly as possible," he said.

However, Mr. Kolbe acknowledges the war supplemental does not cover costs for long term reconstruction in Iraq.

That subject was also addressed by the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations committee, Wisconsin Congressman David Obey. "There is really very little in this package that will pay for the long term reconstruction of Iraq," he said. "And there is very little in this package that will pay for the long term cost of peacekeeping, if we're involved in that."

In Mr. Obey's words, the president's request is not the bill for the war, only the "downpayment" on the bill. The American public, he says, should be prepared for considerably higher costs down the road.

The president's war request includes aid in various forms for Jordan, Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan and a $1 billion grant for Turkey, which did not permit U.S. ground forces to use its territory.

Congressman Obey notes it remains to be seen how Congress will react to the billion dollar grant request for Turkey. And Congressman Kolbe says the request is likely to draw some hard questions from skeptical lawmakers.

"I think it's going to be a tough one," he said. "We'll look at it carefully, but I think there will be some serious questions, I know, that will be asked, just because of the fact that they didn't allow us, they didn't give us the authority that we had sought originally and thought would be available to us."

The House Appropriations Committee has already scheduled hearings on the president's war budget. Similar hearings are being arranged on the Senate side.

President Bush urged Congress to avoid attaching additional money requests to the Iraq war supplemental. However, Democrats are already signaling they may try to do just that, focusing on what they say is insufficient money devoted to homeland security.