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Congress Continues Debate on Funds for Iraq - 2003-10-16

Congress Thursday continues consideration of legislation to fund military operations in and rehabilitation of Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. The House of Representatives began formal debate late Wednesday on the $87 billion funding request, while the Senate continues its deliberations.

Some lawmakers still want to loan rather than grant between $18 billion and $20 billion of the total amount of the legislation to Iraq for reconstruction. In debate Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans came down on both sides of that argument.

The Bush administration and Republican leaders oppose such an arrangement, saying Iraq can't afford to shoulder more debt than it already has.

Congressman Bill Young, chairman of the House appropriations committee, focused on what he considers the most important objective. "We can't walk out of there [Iraq] today while the Iraqis themselves are still disrupted because they don't have an infrastructure yet."

Democrats for the most part are the ones favoring loans to Iraq, saying Americans are asking why money should be sent to Iraq when there are critical needs at home:

"I for one will not write the president a blank check for $18.6 billion in reconstruction funds of American taxpayer's money based on a reconstruction plan just sent to Congress," says New Jersey Congressman Robert Menendez. "Which rebuilds Iraq's electricity infrastructure among other things when ours isn't functioning here at home."

However, even some Republicans, such as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, support the approach. "Helping Iraq rebuild is certainly an important part of our winning in Iraq but they should be based on loans rather than based on gifts from the American people," he says.

Both House and Senate bills contain provisions that would prohibit any of the money designated for reconstruction to repay Iraqi debts to foreign governments.

The Bush administration has said it expects other countries to make substantial aid commitments for Iraq during a donors conference in Spain later this month.