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US Lawmakers React to Reports of Large Budget Request for Iraq Reconstruction - 2003-09-04


Reports that the Bush administration plans to ask Congress for tens of billions more dollars to pay for the cost of reconstruction in Iraq are reverberating on Capitol Hill.

Earlier this year, Congress overwhelmingly approved President Bush's supplemental budget request totaling about $80 billion to pay for initial costs of the war in Iraq as well as continuing operations in Afghanistan.

At the time, the administration faced sharp criticism from congressional Democrats for taking so long to come up with an estimate of how much U.S. military operations would cost.

This criticism has been somewhat muted during the congressional summer recess. However, Democrats are again increasing the intensity amid the latest media reports about the new Iraq war budget request.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the administration has quietly informed congressional leaders that another $60 billion to $70 billion may be required for Iraq.

At a special briefing at the Pentagon, two House Republicans said Congress needs to "stay the course" and provide whatever is needed to ensure that reconstruction in Iraq succeeds.

"We are committed to what we are doing and we have to be," said Rep. Tom Davis. "For the United States to not follow through on this, to somehow pull out and try to do this on the cheap and fail, would have lasting repercussions that would haunt this planet for a generation. So, we cannot afford to do that."

Mr. Davis went on to predict that a new Iraq budget request would be approved overwhelmingly by the House, provided Democrats do not attempt to use the bill to add unrelated spending amendments.

The White House said Thursday the new budget request has not been finalized. However, two key officials went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the essentials.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was the object of Democratic criticism on Iraq war costs earlier in the year, briefed members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. He was joined by General John Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command.

Meanwhile, the decision by the Bush administration to seek wider United Nations participation in the Iraq reconstruction process has been generally welcomed on Capitol Hill.

Republican Peter Hoekstra says engaging the international community is only one of a number of issues that need to be confronted in months ahead. "Pulling out is not an option," he said. "Doing it on the cheap is not an option. Getting a number, at least a preliminary number, for getting us through the next few months from the administration I think is essential for Congress to have the discussion and the debate about the direction. Engaging the international community in the donor conference in October is absolutely essential. And getting Iraqi oil flowing again would be helpful."

However, Democrats have used the administration announcement concerning the United Nations to direct more criticism at the White House.

House [Democratic] minority leader Nancy Pelosi called the White House announcement "a welcome admission that the current policy is not realistic and not sustainable."