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US House of Representatives, Senate Expected to Pass Iraq, Afghanistan Package Soon - 2003-10-17

The U.S. House of Representatives is nearing passage of President Bush's $87 billion funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate is expected to follow suit, although lawmakers are threatening to defy the president by converting some $20 billion for Iraq's reconstruction from a grant into a loan.

House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas underscored the importance of the package to winning the war on terrorism. "The war that we are fighting cannot be won without a safe and secure Iraq. It cannot be won without the reconstruction funding in this bill," he said.

But opponents, mostly Democrats, are concerned about the high cost of the package at a time of growing U.S. budget deficits. They are also aware of public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans oppose the $87 billion request and question whether domestic needs are being funded adequately.

"Now the president says 'throw some more good money after bad.' The answer from my district is 'no,' and it ought to be from the entire Congress," said Congressman Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state.

The Republican majority in the House voted to block Democrats from offering a plan that would have scaled back scheduled tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to pay for the package. The plan also would have designated half the reconstruction funding as a loan.

There is more support for making half the reconstruction money a loan in the Senate. Under a plan put forward by bipartisan senators, Mr. Bush could waive repayment of the loan if France, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other creditors forgive at least 90 percent of Iraq's debt to them.

In a separate matter, the Republican majority in the Senate defeated a Democratic amendment that would have barred the administration from spending half of the reconstruction funding before April. That is when Mr. Bush would have been required to certify to Congress that he had secured military, political and economic assistance from the United Nations to stabilize Iraq.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, argued against the measure. "This amendment holds reconstruction efforts in Iraq hostage to the passage of another appropriations bill and hostage to actions by the U.N.," he said.

Once the House and Senate pass their versions of the legislation, differences will have to be reconciled before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.