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Congress: Iraq Facts Before Funds

GENERIC President Bush, U.S. Troop, over the Capitol Dome, money, and the U.S. flag
AP / CBS
Congressional support for President Bush's $87 billion request comes with a price. Members of both parties want the White House to spell out details of the overall U.S. strategy in Iraq.

For months, many Democrats and some Republicans have complained that the Bush administration has offered few details about how it will rebuild Iraq, how much international support can be expected, how much American taxpayers will have to pay over the years and how long U.S. troops will be based there.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said he will offer an amendment to the Iraq spending bill that would bar money for relief and reconstruction until Mr. Bush officially reports to Congress on his Iraq strategy.

"The president owes our troops and their families a plan before we give the administration a blank check," Kennedy said in a written statement.

Lawmakers are also concerned that the huge expenditure will put the squeeze on domestic programs and balloon the growing federal budget deficit.

The Washington Post reports that many lawmakers also believe that the Bush request is only a first installment, and that the president will come back to Congress for more money after the $87 billion appropriation is approved.

The Los Angeles Times reports actual reconstruction costs may run $55 billion more.

Some Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., plan to demand an increase in spending on homeland security as the price for supporting the president's Iraq expenditure.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said Tuesday the Bush administration "did a miserable job of planning the post-Saddam Iraq" and "they treated many in the Congress, most of the Congress like a nuisance."

Answers "will be demanded," Hagel said Tuesday on the CBS News Early Show. Kennedy, also appearing on The Early Show said the best approach is to involve the United Nations and get additional troops from Muslim nations to offset the burden of American troops.

Senators are likely to seek answers about the administration's Iraq plans Tuesday as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the Armed Services Committee.

In a televised address Sunday, Mr. Bush said he would ask Congress for $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to the $79 billion that Congress approved in April. Mr. Bush said the money is needed to stop terrorists before they can strike again in the United States.

Republicans, who control the House and Senate, praised Mr. Bush's speech and offered support for the plan. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the proposal "warrants the support of Congress." And House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., whose panel will help write Congress' version, said he would "aggressively expedite the president's request."

Democrats will be hard-pressed to deny Bush the money he says is needed for U.S. soldiers. "We obviously want to support our troops. That, I think, is a given," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

They are already using the money request to argue that the administration didn't plan adequately for the war's aftermath, was overly optimistic about Iraqi and international cooperation and foolishly pushed through tax cuts even as the war aggravated a growing deficit.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said there isn't enough money to meet Mr. Bush's own education goals, "and yet we're going to ask the American taxpayers to keep coughing up money for this quagmire that we're in now in Iraq."

"This may not be Vietnam, but boy, it sure smells like it," he said. "And every time I see these bills coming down for the money, it's costing like Vietnam, too."

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is demanding that tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers be postponed — a proposal likely to face strong Republican opposition.

"Is this still a sacrificeless undertaking except those we send to Iraq?" he said in an interview. "Or is there actually something that Americans are going to be asked to do?"

Some lawmakers also said the $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction would receive particular scrutiny. Levin said that money would be wasted if the Bush administration doesn't make a serious effort to secure help from other nations. Administration officials say they want international participation, but it's not clear how much authority they are willing to cede in Iraq to secure it.

"If we don't get other countries involved, if we don't make a serious effort in the U.N., which other countries say is essential for their participation, then it increases the chances that the reconstruction money will be ineffective," he said.

Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said the $20 billion is well short of the estimated $50 billion to $75 billion needed for reconstruction.

"It is unrealistic now to think that our motley coalition will come up with $50 billion, and even more dubious that our allies in Europe and Japan will do so," he said.