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Bremer Faces More Questioning by Lawmakers Over Iraq Budget Request - 2003-09-25

The head of the U.S. provisional administration in Iraq, Paul Bremer, returns to Capitol Hill Thursday to face more tough questions from lawmakers concerned about the amount of money Americans are being asked to spend in Iraq. Ambassador Bremer appeared before House and Senate committees on Wednesday, where he tried to assure lawmakers that new money Congress approves will be spent wisely and efficiently.

Referring to the Marshall Plan, the assistance program that helped Germany recover from World War II, Mr. Bremer placed the needs of Iraq in stark terms for members of a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee.

"Creating a sovereign, democratic, constitutional and prosperous Iraq can deal a blow to terrorists," he said. "It shows you can have freedom and dignity without using truck bombs to slaughter the innocent. It gives the lie to those who describe us as enemies of Islam, enemies of Arabs, enemies of the poor. That is why the president's request has to be seen as an important element in the global war on terrorism."

The House and Senate are likely to take up President Bush's $87 billion request in the next two weeks.

However, Democrats are using the request, and recent opinion polls showing declining support for the president on Iraq, to direct more criticism at Republicans and the administration.

Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader in the House. "If there ever was a plan for post-war Iraq, it is failing," she said. "And now they're asking for 87-billion dollars, much of which would not be necessary if they had a successful policy and if they had better protection of our troops."

Mr. Bremer assured lawmakers that money for reconstruction, which amounts to just over $20 billion of the $87 billion requested, will be spent "with prudent transparency." He linked reconstruction funds to the safety of U.S. troops.

"Unless this supplemental passes quickly," he said, "Iraqis face an indefinite period with [electricity] blackouts eight hours a day. The link to the safety of our troops is real, if indirect. We need to emulate the military practice of using overwhelming force in the beginning. Incrementalism and gradual escalation will not work."

House Republican leaders predict the Iraq budget supplemental request will pass, and say they intend to take the legislation straight to the House floor from the Appropriations Committee.

To the discomfort of many Democrats, Mr. Bremer declined to speculate how long he believes U.S. forces will have to be in Iraq. He also declined to specify how much more money the administration may have to request, likely as part of the regular 2005 budget plan, for Iraq.

Returning to Capitol Hill Thursday, along with Mr. Bremer, will be Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who some Democratic lawmakers say should resign to take responsibility for poor administration planning and problems the United States has had in Iraq.