The U.S. Senate has resumed debate on President Bush's $87 billion funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan following a week-long recess.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, spent last week in his home state, discussing the President's funding request at a series of town hall meetings.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Senator Nelson said his constituents are concerned that more American taxpayer money is being spent to rebuild Iraq than to meet their own needs at home. He said he received an earful from Florida residents about the $20.3 billion of the package to be used for the reconstruction of Iraq. "I would see people getting very restive in these town hall meetings," he said. "They would say 'what about our needs for restoring wetlands in Florida? What about our needs for building roads and bridges and repairing roads, and what about our needs for money going into education?'"
The Senate's top Democrat, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, is particularly concerned about the impact the $87 billion package will have on the growing budget deficit. He also spoke on the Senate floor. "For us to say that we are going to exacerbate that by borrowing even more to provide reconstruction assistance to Iraq is deeply troubling," he said.
Senator Daschle is among a number of Democrats, and some Republicans, who would like future Iraqi oil revenues be used to reimburse American taxpayers for the cost of Iraq's reconstruction.
But Republican leaders oppose the loan idea, saying the United States should not increase Iraq's already heavy debt burden.
Meanwhile, a group of Senate Republicans who traveled to Iraq last week highlighted the progress the U.S.-led coalition is making there.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky led the delegation. He says despite almost daily reports of attacks on U.S. troops by those loyal to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and other forces, the situation in Iraq is better than that described in news accounts. "Commerce is up and going, people are glad we are there, and there is hope and there is optimism in spite of these attacks," he said.
Another member of the delegation was Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who broke with members of his party last year in voting against authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. Senator Chafee announced that he will side with his party this time in support of Mr. Bush's $87 billion request. "I do think that now that we have removed a government from Iraq, we are the government, and we have a responsibility to provide the services," he said.
The Senate is expected to vote on the package in the coming weeks. Senator McConnell says he expects it to pass, although he is not sure whether the money for Iraq's reconstruction will be in the form of a loan or a grant.
The House is also expected to act on the measure soon.