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Congress Holds Hearings on Funding for US Military Operations - 2003-09-30

The U.S. Congress is holding more hearings on President Bush's $87 billion request to fund U.S. military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard Armitage, the number two official in the State Department, testified before a House appropriations subcommittee.

Mr. Armitage's appearance came as lawmakers continue to ask tough questions about how the money will be spent in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In response to questions, he addressed concerns about how quickly the United States might be able to turn over power to the Iraqi Governing Council.

"The best chance to make this lasting is to have a constitution and have an election, at which time Ambassador Bremer and his colleagues are no longer sovereign, and Iraqis are sovereign." he said. "Some of our international friends want to have it tomorrow, or next month. It's a little quick. We're not quite ready."

Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have already announced they will try to add funds to the spending bill.

Some lawmakers want more for things like bulletproof vests for U.S. soldiers, and electronic equipment to jam radio-controlled bombs killing Americans in Iraq.

Others, such as Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, want $20 billion, the amount requested for Iraqi reconstruction, added to the bill to pay for health care, education and other needs of Americans.

"We're going to obligate Americans for the next 30 years to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq," he said.

In the Senate, some Republicans joined Democrats in endorsing a plan to have the $20 billion for reconstruction transformed from a grant to a loan.

The Bush administration opposes this, saying loaning money would only increase a future Iraqi government's debt burden, and complicate U.S. efforts to get money from other countries.

Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican, disagrees.

"If we are to have a chance to get contributions from other nations, it seems to me we ought not to make a blanket grant at the present time of $20 billion but ought to condition any such grant on getting cooperation, or getting support from other countries," said Senator Specter.

Jim Kolbe, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, stressed the importance of approving all of the money requested for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We need to pursue an orderly transition of power to stable and representative governments, in both of those countries, Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.

Deputy Secretary Armitage said the administration remains optimistic about Afghanistan:

"Certainly in Afghanistan, this acceleration of success is all aimed toward the June elections," said Richard Armitage. "No matter who wins, we want the government of Afghanistan to feel that we were with them, we led the international community into the betterment of that society."

The supplemental budget includes about $2 billion for Afghanistan, including money for election monitoring and security as well as health and construction.

In separate testimony, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, said while much of the focus has been on violence, there has been progress in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is indisputable that there are security problems but there are large portions of both countries which are stable and secure, and where reconstruction is going on without the fear of 'warlordism' or the old order disrupting things," said Andrew Natsios.

In the Senate, Republicans on the appropriations committee voted down a Democratic attempt to separate military operations from reconstruction aid. The administration says it's important to keep all the money together in one piece of legislation. The Senate version of the legislation could come up for debate in that chamber on Wednesday, while House debate and action would probably come later in October.