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Congress Debates Size of Afghan Aid Package

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a $1 billion aid package to Afghanistan. The size of the package is sparking divisions among lawmakers.

The House International Relations Committee Wednesday approved the aid package and sent it to the full House for consideration. The proposed aid package, which still needs to be considered by the Senate, is aimed at helping Afghanistan meet its humanitarian, development and security needs.

Although the measure passed the House committee, lawmakers appeared divided over the size of the package, which would be distributed over four years.

Democrat William Delahunt of Massachusetts wondered whether the committee appropriated enough for the rebuilding effort. In response, Republican Dana Rohrabacher said it is a good 'first step' with symbolic value.

"I am concerned about Afghanistan. I do not think we can do this on the cheap," Mr. Delahunt said. "I think we have got to do it right, because a half-hearted attempt here could be disastrous for the people of Afghanistan."

"This will be a message to the whole Islamic world that we have helped these people free themselves from the tyranny of the Taleban," according to Mr. Rohrabacher.

But Mr. Rohrabacher's fellow Republican, Ron Paul of Texas, said he believes the aid package is too broad.

"I do not see this as a productive use of taxpayer money, and I do not see a lot of good coming of this," he said. "There are a lot of good intentions, but I'm very skeptical of much coming from this. Social engineering and nation building are not part of our responsibility, and there is a lot of that in here."

On the other hand, Democrat Joseph Hoeffel of Pennsylvania said the bill may not be broad enough. He would like to see an aid package modeled after the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II.

"We must look at a regional approach, not a piece-meal approach," he said. "We need to consider not just reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan, but redevelopment and empowerment of the entire Central Asia region."

Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona expressed concern the committee was moving ahead of the administration, which has yet to send Congress its request for additional aid to Afghanistan.

But International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, dismissed such concerns.

"We are trying to provide the administration with the tools and the flexibility that we think they need to administer assistance to the people of Afghanistan, and I am optimistic that we can persuade them of the wisdom of our position," he said.

The full House could vote on the measure as early as next month. The aid legislation would have to be approved by the Senate before going to President Bush for his signature.