Former employees of the biggest U.S. contractor in Iraq, Texas-based Halliburton, have testified before Congress concerning their allegations of overcharging and other abuses. The issue has political overtones, with Republicans and Democrats accusing each other of trying to use the issue to damage presidential election prospects.

From the start of the hearing, the fourth on Halliburton by the House Government Reform Committee, the political emotions were plain.

Committee chairman, Republican Congressman Tom Davis, questioned the motivations of the former employees about to testify and repeated his view that Democrats are trying to use the Halliburton issue to score political points.

"I tried to convince the Democrat minority that there was not much here, but again there are some who have a different view in this and think that oversight advances a political agenda," he said.

The top committee Democrat, Congressman Henry Waxman, denied political motivations.

"My focus and my concern has been for the U.S. taxpayer," Mr. Waxman said. "We are spending tens of billions of dollars in Iraq, and the company with the two largest contracts is Halliburton. If you want to know where the taxpayer's interests are being protected, you have to follow the money and in this case, the money leads to Halliburton."

Formerly headed by Dick Cheney before he became Vice President, Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root are the subject of a government investigation into alleged overcharging and other irregularities. The General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress' investigative arm, and Pentagon auditors say there is no evidence the U.S. military acted improperly in awarding contracts, but both companies failed to use cost-effective methods, and tolerated billing and other irregularities.

Congressman Waxman denied alleging that Vice President Cheney exerted improper influence that may have helped Halliburton receive contracts. But he says there is evidence countering denials there were no contacts between Mr. Cheney's office and the Pentagon regarding multibillion dollars contracts.

Republicans sought to cast doubts on the veracity of testimony by four former Halliburton employees, who allege a range of abuses, including overcharging on everything from purchases of canned soda and truck tires to hotel rooms.

Marie deYoung formerly worked for Kellog, Brown and Root in Kuwait.

"There was no regard for spending limits, but the priorities were backwards. (For) luxuries, KBR (Kellog, Brown and Root) came first. Soldiers, and the people in the field, were second," she said.

Executives of Kellog, Brown and Root strenuously denied there was a policy of unlimited spending.

Company official, Charles Cox, addresses allegations of overcharges for fuel, estimated by auditors to be as high as $167 million.

"We did everything possible to ensure the army's requirements were met, at the lowest possible cost, even given the urgency," he said.

While the committee's Republican leadership acquiesced to Democrat demands to hear testimony from former employees, a Democratic attempt to have a subpoena issued to require the Bush administration to turn over all documents relating to the contracts was voted down along party lines.