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US Lawmakers Want Accountability of Iraq Funds - 2003-09-09

U.S. lawmakers generally agree that President Bush will get the $87 billion he is requesting from Congress for military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Democrats are demanding an accounting of how the money would be spent.

President Bush's $87 billion spending request, which he announced in a nationally televised speech Sunday night, is much higher than many lawmakers had expected. Most of the funding is to be used to support the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq and to rebuild the country.

Lawmakers, eager to show their support for U.S. troops in Iraq, are expected to approve the package.

"The President is saying we have to stay the course, and I believe there is a very strong presumption in support of what the President will want to do as a matter of executive leadership with the specification as to how much money he wants and what he wants to use the money for," said Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist made a similar prediction last week, even before the President's speech. "We will stand behind the President and the request of the President of the United States, and we will provide those resources proudly, because we must win, we will win, there is no question in my mind we will win," he said.

Expectations that Congress will approve the money come despite growing concern on Capitol Hill about the situation in Iraq, including the persistent attacks on U-S forces and the slow pace of restoring basic services to the Iraqi people.

Spirited debate about the administration's Iraq policy is likely when Congress formally receives the President's funding request.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, could not wait for the formal debate, and offered his own harsh assessment of administration policy Monday. "We are going to ask the American taxpayer to keep coughing up money for this quagmire that we are in now in Iraq," he said.

Democrats are demanding that the administration detail how the money will be spent in Iraq.

"Congress and the American people must insist on a full accounting from the administration of the dollars it is requesting for Iraq," said Senator Robert Byrd, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. "The fact that we are faced with staggering demands in Iraq does not mean that Congress should feel compelled to hand the administration a blank check."

Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, does not believe American taxpayers should bear the financial burden of rebuilding Iraq. He wants the administration to answer a number of questions. "What kind of support will other countries provide for the reconstruction of the country of Iraq? Who will provide what resources? Who will make what contributions," asks Senator Dorgan. "How will the Iraqi oil, which is under the sands of that country, and the second largest oil reserves in the world, how will they contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq?"

Democrats seeking their party's nomination for President next year were particularly critical of Mr. Bush's speech.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean said, in his words, "a 15 minute speech does not make up for 15 months of misleading American people on why we should go to war against Iraq or 15 weeks of mismanaging the reconstruction effort."

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said Mr. Bush had presented, as he put it, "a goal, not a plan" for winning the peace.