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Senate OK's $87 Billion for Iraq, Afghanistan - 2003-11-03

The U.S. Senate Monday gave final approval to President Bush's $87 billion spending request for Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation now goes to the president for his signature.

Passage of the legislation was never in doubt, as most lawmakers believe the United States has no option but to stay the course in Iraq.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was a key sponsor of the measure. "We finish what we start, and we will not fail to do so now. This appropriations bill will enable us to fulfill our responsibilities to our men and women in uniform and to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

The bill is a compromise between House and Senate-passed versions of the legislation. It drops a Senate-backed provision that would have made $10 billion in Iraq reconstruction aid a loan, not a grant.

But some lawmakers, including Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, still believe Iraq with its second largest oil reserves in the world should share in the cost of its reconstruction. "I recognize, I want to emphasize, the need for help in the short term, but surely, our taxpayers could be partially repaid in the long term," she said.

The Bush administration, which had threatened to veto the bill if it contained the loan provision, had argued the United States should not add to Iraq's debt burden.

Democrats used the debate to renew their criticism of Bush administration policy in Iraq, which they say has embroiled the United States in a prolonged, costly conflict.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said "the $87 billion in this appropriations bill provides the where-with-all for the United States to stay the course in Iraq, when what we badly need is a course correction. The president owes the American people an exit strategy for Iraq, and it is time for the president to deliver."

The package includes $65 billion to support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, $18.6 billion to rebuild Iraq, and $1.2 billion dollars for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The bill also sets stricter demands for the administration to account for how the money is used, and tightens requirements for competitive bidding on contracts.

The House gave its final approval to the legislation last week.