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Congressional Republicans Accentuate the Positive on Iraq - 2003-09-24

Concerned that media reports and congressional Democrats are portraying the situation in Iraq as more dire way than it really is, the Bush administration and fellow Republicans in Congress are stepping up efforts to accentuate the positive. The move comes as lawmakers are considering President Bush's $87 billion emergency request for Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the wake of public opinion polls showing the American people's confidence in President Bush's postwar Iraq policies waning, it appears Republican lawmakers and members of the administration have embarked on a campaign to boost support.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows only 15 percent of Americans believe the situation in Iraq is going "very well." A big change from April, when more than 50 percent felt the situation in Iraq was going very well.

The survey also shows that 59 percent of the respondents oppose the $87 billion that Mr. Bush is seeking from Congress for Iraq and Afghanistan, while 36 percent support it.

Administration officials are on Capitol Hill all this week to shore up support for the package. With the help of Republican congressional leaders, they are seeking to counter media reports that they believe accentuate U.S. casualties and give little attention to progress toward stability in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, saying "there is progress. There is political progress, there is economic progress."

The Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Ted Stevens, supported the administration. He drew attention to a new Gallup poll showing 62 percent of the people in Baghdad believe ousting Saddam Hussein was worth the difficulties they have endured since then.

He emphasized one aspect of the survey dealing with the job being done by the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer. "The Iraqi views of the job being done by Ambassador Bremer "are remarkably positive," with 47 percent of the respondents lauding him for the recovery process in place," he said. "Now you wouldn't guess from what we are hearing both from the media and some senators, you wouldn't guess that anything like that is going on in this country."

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Bill Frist also took note of that poll. "The Iraqi people themselves say loud and clear that they want us to stay and want us to finish the job. They are optimistic about the future. Seven out of 10 say they expect their country and their personal lives will be better five years from now," he said.

But Democrats, who have expressed concern about the security situation in Iraq and the slow pace of returning basic services to the country, continue to challenge the President's plans. Some are demanding the administration provide a detailed accounting of how the $87 billion funding request will be used before the money is approved.

Senator Tom Daschle, the Senate's top Democrat, said "I think it is very important that we ask these questions, that the President come forth with greater clarity, and far more substance with regard to his specific plans on how this money is going to be used, and far more transparency."

Most of the package is earmarked for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is broad agreement that the money will be approved.

But Senator Daschle has suggested the administration may have trouble getting support for the $20.3 billion to be used for Iraq's reconstruction. Many lawmakers would like other donor nations to share the financial burden of rebuilding the country.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, Ambassador Bremer said it was essential that Congress approve all the money the president requested. "No one part of this $87 billion supplemental is dispensable, and no part is more important than the others," he said.

Ambassador Bremer, who also testified before the House Appropriations Committee, makes a return visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday.