The House of Representatives has approved, in a vote of 303 to 125, an $87 billion bill funding military needs and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Senate, where a final vote is expected later, President Bush was dealt a blow earlier when an amendment was approved that would convert half of reconstruction aid for Iraq to a loan.
The president and senior administration officials tried hard to prevent precisely what happened in the Senate when some key Republicans voted to turn half of the $20 billion or so for Iraqi reconstruction into a loan.
Some Senate Democrats voted to support the president's insistence that all reconstruction aid should be in the form of a grant. But the final vote late Thursday on the amendment was a narrow 51 to 47 against the White House position.
Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, called this a message that Americans don't want to shoulder the burden of Iraq's reconstruction "virtually alone."
In the House, the Republican leadership was successful in rejecting Democratic amendments seeking to convert grants to loans, or reduce or delay reconstruction money.
Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe reflected the administration position that Iraq should not be burdened with additional debt as it rebuilds from years of neglect by Saddam Hussein. He said, "There is only one thing we really ask from Iraq in terms of repayment. We ask for them to give us a stable, a free, a democratic government, a people committed to peace and security in the region that will help to bring about peace and security for the all the peoples of that region and for the United States."
Lawmakers did vote to require the Bush administration to report to Congress on efforts to internationalize the military operations and reconstruction of Iraq.
They also approved a proposal to shift $98 million from Iraq reconstruction money to help American soldiers on leave pay for trips home.
House Republicans prevented numerous additional amendments by the Democratic minority. That brought this response from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She said, "The fact that there was no plan for post-war Iraq is just too painful for them to listen to. The amendments that had been thoughtfully considered and presented by our colleagues on both sides of the aisle point out the shortcomings of this supplemental to begin with."
In the Senate, tempers flared when Democrats used the final hours of debate to attack Bush administration policy on Iraq.
There was this exchange between Ted Stevens, Republican chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, and New York Democrat Charles Schumer who supported a proposal to create an independent commission to investigate pre-Iraq war.
"Now what's going on here! I don't see any reason to bring the (presidential) campaign in oh-four (2004) to this chamber on this bill, but that is what is going on with what has been said by the senator from New York! I take great offense at that!" Senator Stevens said.
Senator Schumer replied said, "I have to say as aggravated as my colleague from Alaska is with me I am with him. This was not intended to be political! I believe that our intelligence needs improvement. I think most Americans, Democrat or Republican, believe that!"
Once House and Senate bills are approved, negotiators will have to iron out differences on the question of loans and the total amount of reconstruction aid for Iraq and Afghanistan out of the $87 billion bill before final legislation can go to President Bush for signature.
Lawmakers want to conclude all their work on the funding legislation before the international donors meeting on Iraq gets underway in Madrid next week.