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House Committee Approves President Bush's Iraq Budget - 2003-10-09

A key appropriations committee in the House of Representatives has approved a bill providing just under $87 billion for reconstruction and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some members of Congress were persuaded by the Bush administration to drop demands that portions of reconstruction money be changed from grants to loans to be repaid by a future Iraqi government.

Democrats and Republicans agreed on the need to pay for U.S. military operations in both countries, amounting to about $65 billion of the total bill.

But on the question of reconstruction in oil-rich Iraq, and the method with which money is provided, there was more controversy.

Many Democrats, joined by some Republicans, favored loaning, rather than granting, $20 billion of the $87 billion to Iraq, saying American taxpayers should not be asked to shoulder the burden.

The chairman of the appropriations committee, Republican Congressman Bill Young, with White House support, resisted these efforts.

"All of the funds provided here are in grants," said Mr. Young, opening the committee meeting. "There is no loan authority provided."

Wisconsin Democrat David Obey argued that Iraq, with future oil revenues, would be able to repay loans.

"There can be a responsible mix of loans and grants, which in the process will deliver more aid to Iraq at less cost to the taxpayer," he said.

The committee voted down Mr. Obey's and other Democratic amendments seeking to reduce the level of Iraqi reconstruction funding or transform it into loans. The White House persuaded two Republican congressmen to withdraw similar amendments.

The bill also contains a prohibition on using any of the money to repay Iraq's debts to foreign governments.

Top House Democrats, meanwhile, continued to criticize administration planning for Iraq. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi took aim at what has been called a new public relations push by the White House to justify military action in Iraq.

"Yes, there are some positive actions that are being taken there [in Iraq]," said Ms. Pelosi. "But in terms of the overall strategy and plan for post-war Iraq, no, it has not been successful, and that is why they are coming back for $87 billion and that is why they have told us that is not even the end of it."

The $20.3 billion for Iraqi reconstruction contains money for security, including just over $3 billion for training and equipping police, and a new Iraqi army.

About $5 billion is for repairing Iraq's electrical power grid. About $4 billion goes for rehabilitating water and sanitation. $2 billion is devoted to rebuilding Iraq's oil infrastructure.

The House bill does not fund controversial items such as $150 million toward construction of a children's hospital in the southern port of Basra, along with two new prisons, housing communities, and a new postal code system.

For Afghanistan, the bill provides $1.2 billion, about $400 million more than the president requested, for roads, schools, power generation and education.

Congressman Jim Kolbe, who chairs the foreign operations subcommittee, said the combined Iraq-Afghanistan request is substantial, but the costs are small compared to the price of failure.

"These funds have to be considered an investment, an investment in security, both in the region and on American soil, and recognized as a responsibility," said Mr. Kolbe. "We must not be faced 20 years in the future with the knowledge that we have removed two tyrants only to leave vacuums into which their cousins in tyranny can return."

The funding bill will be debated in the full House of Representatives next week. The Senate, which has been in recess, is likely to take up the legislation after that.