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Democrats Plan to Challenge President Bush's Priorities Over Iraq Funding - 2003-09-18

The U.S. Congress has received President Bush's $87 billion spending request for Iraq and Afghanistan, and will open hearings on the package next week. Democrats are already using the funding request to attack the president's priorities.

Most of the $87 billion is to be used for Iraq. The request includes money to rebuild the country's electricity system, oil infrastructure, communication and transportation systems and schools and hospitals.

There is general agreement among both Republicans and Democrats that the funding request will be approved. Lawmakers say the United States cannot abandon Iraq now.

But Democrats hope to use the spending package, which is larger than many had predicted, to challenge Mr. Bush's priorities. They are already making the case that the money the president is seeking for Iraq dwarfs what he plans to spend on initiatives at home.

For example, Democrats are arguing that, while Mr. Bush is intent on rebuilding schools in Iraq, he is not fully funding education programs in the United States.

Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate's top Democrat, said: "I would like to know how much money we are spending in rural Iraq for education, compared to what we are spending in rural South Dakota."

But President Bush defends his spending plans for domestic programs, such as his "No Child Left Behind" education initiative, and for Iraq.

"The 'No Child Left Behind' funding is the largest increase in elementary and secondary school funding in a long time," said Mr. Bush. "The 'Title One' part of the elementary and secondary school act funding is a large increase as well, historic increases. Secondly, it is vital that we succeed in Iraq, and a free Iraq will make us more secure."

Some Democrats are taking aim at Mr. Bush's tax-cut plan, saying it is something the country can ill afford at a time of record budget deficits and an expensive mission in Iraq.

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware has introduced legislation that would finance the $87 billion request by suspending tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

"Just delaying, eliminating that tax cut for the year 2010 would garner about $85 billion in savings, about the same amount that is necessary to fund the supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan this year," he said.

But the White House is committed to the tax cuts. Congressional Republicans also argue the tax-cut plan is just as important as the money for Iraq. "This money is basic infrastructure money to help the Iraq economy, and the tax reductions are incentives to get this economy going, and I think they both need to be done," says Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Another Republican, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, makes a broader point about the balance between international and domestic priorities. He argues that success or failure in Iraq can have an impact on Americans at home. "America cannot prosper at home in the absence of security and stability abroad. Issues critical to Nebraskans and America, like trade and economic growth, do not flourish in conflict. They wither and die," he said.

Republican leaders expect the $87 billion spending package to be approved before the congressional recess in early October.