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US Lawmakers Grill Bush Officials on Iraq Budget Request - 2003-09-24

Bush administration officials faced a day of tough questioning Wednesday from skeptical members of Congress during hearings into the White House request for nearly $90 billion to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A day after President Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq before the United Nations, top members of his administration were explaining why the costs will be much higher than they initially thought and why they are necessary.

The White House says $87 billion will be needed for operations in post-war Iraq and keeping the peace in Afghanistan. While most observers expect the administration will get its request, some members of Congress are wondering why other countries are not offering to defer some of those costs with money and troops of their own.

Bush administration officials faced tough questions as they laid out their case for an Iraqi reconstruction effort that is already costing American taxpayers nearly a billion dollars a week. "Congress, as you can tell, is very concerned," said Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I'm not about to vote for the $87 billion without further explanation."

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told senators the cost of rebuilding and bringing democracy to Iraq are part of the cost of the war on terrorism, a price that is nothing, he said, compared to the toll the nation has paid since the September 11 attacks two years ago.

"We believe it is necessary for the security of our country and the stability of the world and that the price of sending terrorists a message that we're not willing to spend what it takes to do, that we value comfort or money more than freedom would be far greater," he said.

Still, the Iraq war and its aftermath have proven to be much more expensive and violent than administration officials predicted before the conflict began. At that time, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress Iraq would soon be able to finance its own reconstruction based on oil revenue. Instead, the White House is now counting on countries, many of which opposed the war, to come forward with billions of dollars in aid pledges at a donors' conference next month in Madrid.

Democratic senior Senator Robert Byrd questions whether other nations will be as generous as the Bush administration would like. "We have alienated most of the international community by fighting this pre-emptive war," he said.

And, in a sharp exchange with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, he accused the White House of not being truthful with the American people about the U.S. mission in Iraq. "The American people have never been told that we're going into that country to build a new nation, to build a new government, to democratize the country and to democratize the Middle East," he said. "They haven't been told that. They were told we're going in there because of weapons of mass destruction."

While all this was going on, President Bush spent the day in New York meeting with the leaders of India and Pakistan and patching up relations with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which were badly strained over the Iraq war. President Bush told reporters, "We've had differences and they're over and we're going to work together."

While stopping short of taking up a U.S. request to send troops to Iraq, Germany now says it is willing to help train Iraqi police.