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US Congress Returns to Work - 2003-09-02

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill after their August recess. Iraq is expected to be high on their agenda, as is work on a number of spending bills.

Concern among lawmakers over the situation in Iraq is rising as the American death toll there mounts.

Democrats and Republicans alike are calling for the Bush administration to seek a greater international role in stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.

The administration last month indicated it might be willing to get the United Nations involved, but only on condition that coalition forces remain under U.S. control.

That pleases Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who spoke on the Senate floor. "I was glad the Bush administration sent a signal that there would be consideration [of] United Nations participation in Iraq," he said. "The precise formula was not indicated. I think that can be achieved, maintaining U.S. military command."

But Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, in a speech in South Carolina to formally announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President next year, suggested the administration action was too little too late. He said President Bush's policy on Iraq has alienated the world.

"Overseas, George Bush has led and misled us on a course at odds with 200 years of our history," he said. "He has squandered the goodwill of the world after September 11, and he has lost the respect and the influence we need to make our country safe."

Lawmakers also are questioning the costs of the U.S. mission in Iraq, in terms of both lives and taxpayer dollars. They will have an opportunity to voice their concerns to senior U.S. military officials during a closed session of the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

The administration soon is expected to seek additional funding from Congress to pay for the military operation in Iraq for the rest of the budget year, which ends September 30.

The United States is spending about a billion dollars a week on military activities in Iraq, not counting funds to rebuild the country. None of the money is appropriated in the 13 spending bills before Congress.

Lawmakers hope to complete work on all 13 bills, which fund government agencies for the next budget year beginning October 1, in the coming weeks.

The House has approved all but two of the bills, and the Senate has nine to go. None has been sent to President Bush for his signature.

Republicans, who hope to maintain control of both houses of Congress in next year's elections, are eager to show they can deliver. Democrats are expected to question Republican priorities, and seek more money for social programs, including health and education.