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US Lawmakers Continue to Raise Questions About Bush Iraq Budget Request

Members of Congress continue to raise questions about President Bush's request for additional funds for stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq. Congressional Democrats say money should be used for urgent social needs in the United States, and to address weaknesses in homeland security leaving the country open to terrorist attacks.

President Bush last Sunday called Iraq the current front line in the war on terror, and asked Congress to approve $87 billion in new funds, on top of an initial $80 billion approved earlier this year.

The request has intensified debate over the direction and management of U.S. operations in Iraq. And Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have opened a new line of questioning about priorities for spending on homeland security and other domestic needs.

"The American people need to know what is at stake here," said James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. "They need to know about the choices the administration is asking us to make. This is a time for truth and candor. We have had enough spin. We have had enough deception."

What many believe are still serious deficiencies in homeland security, everything from aviation safety to preparedness of the nation's "first responders" such as firefighters, police, emergency medical workers, was a key focus.

Tuesday, one committee heard testimony from experts who warned that not enough money has been devoted to homeland security. "If there is another attack, and I think there will be, it's only a question of time," said Warren Rudman, a former Republican Senator, who co-chaired a special commission examining threats to national security, "and we have a catastrophe [and] we are unable to help our citizens after all the warnings we received, I will put it bluntly, there will be hell to pay for those people who are policymakers."

Congressman David Obey says most Democrats agree the United States must complete its mission in Iraq. However, he says Americans are increasingly nervous about how much money this will require.

"There are prices to be paid for this miscalculation," he said. "To me, if we are going to pay the amount I think we're going to pay out for Iraq, then we cannot afford to be giving $88,000 tax cuts to people who made a million dollars next year."

Senate minority leader Tom Daschle told reporters Democrats are developing what he calls their "legislative strategy" on the president's Iraq funding request. But he says they will be asking many questions as the spending bill makes its way through Congress.

Some of these came during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, from Senator Robert Byrd (Democrat) who warned he would not "rubber stamp" the Iraq funding request.

"Congress has serious questions. The American people have serious questions. And we ought to have answers," he said.

At the same hearing, Arizona Republican John McCain, questioned administration expectations about the prospect of internationalizing Iraqi operations.

Mr. McCain had this exchange with Marc Grossman, State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs.

McCain: Do you have any idea as to when we could expect the first international troops to arrive in Iraq?

Grossman: No sir, but...

McCain: You have no idea?

Grossman: I only have no idea because it would depend on the [U.N.] security council resolution and I can only say to you sir. . .

McCain: So we cannot count on an immediate infusion of international forces into Iraq. Is that correct?

Grossman: I think I can't tell you, of the three or four countries that are waiting for a security council resolution, precisely what day that they will come.

McCain: Thank you. I'm not asking for precisely what day, could you tell me [in terms of] years?

Grossman: If the security council resolution passes sir, in the next few weeks, I can't imagine that it would be years.

The administration's $87 billion request for Iraq, which also includes money for Afghanistan, is likely to be approved by Congress. But if Democrats have their way it won't be without numerous hearings and intense debate.

And congressional aides say even Republican lawmakers believe that at this stage, the president needs to give American taxpayers detailed plans for Iraq and what they may have to expect in the long-run.