Paying to Rebuild in Iraq
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JIM LEHRER: The president’s request for postwar money for Iraq and Afghanistan clears another hurdle in Congress. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning members of House Appropriations Committee took a hard look at the details of an $87 billion emergency spending bill that the president said is needed to continue military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. All were aware of the growing unease among constituents about the increasing costs of post war operations. Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha has served 33 years in Congress.
REP. JOHN MURTHA: I have never received as much mail in the history that I have been here against any proposition as I have against this $87 billion. All of you are getting the same mail. You see it. Yet, I’m for it. I’m for it because I think it’s absolutely essential that we get not only the money for the military but the money for the reconstruction.
KWAME HOLMAN: The numbers in the bill before the committee added up, but not quite the way President Bush added them when he sent his spending request to Congress last month.
REP. C.W. BILL YOUNG: We have scrubbed this request and we’ve made what I consider to be some very important improvements.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Bill Young stood in front of a packed Appropriations Committee room and described how he reordered several of the president’s priorities, and eliminated some of his detailed requests. Gone is the president’s $300 million request for two new prisons in Iraq. Young also eliminated: $153 million for landfills and 40 new garbage trucks at $50,000 apiece; $9 million to develop a new zip code system for Iraq; $4 million for a telephone numbering system; and $150 million to start construction on a new children’s hospital in the southern port city of Basra.
REP. C.W. BILL YOUNG: However, we channeled those funds to modernize current medical facilities in Iraq. We have funded $793 million for local and regional health clinics and hospital equipment throughout Iraq rather than concentrating in that one hospital in Basra.
KWAME HOLMAN: Young trimmed the president’s $20.3 billion request for Iraq reconstruction by $1.7 billion, and called for using some of the savings to buy new body armor for the troops. John Murtha applauded that decision, then blasted White House budget advisors for shortchanging the military in the president’s original request.
REP. JOHN MURTHA: These guys are sitting on their fat backsides up here and the OSD and OMB making a decision that should be made by somebody else out in the field. When I go out in the field and even the generals are complaining about some of the shortages, we’ve got a problem here. We’ve got the bureaucrats making decisions that ought to be made by somebody else.
KWAME HOLMAN: For much of this week, Tennessee Republican Zach Wamp has been under pressure from senior members of the Bush administration to back away from his idea to provide half the money for Iraq reconstruction as a loan. Nonetheless, that’s just what he proposed today.
REP. ZACH WAMP: 50 percent of money would be available immediately in a reconstruction account and the other 50 percent would be held until which time the new government is elected. The first 50 percent would be an emergency and would go out and the other would be held and converted as a loan that the president would have the full authority to negotiate all the terms and conditions on our behalf.
KWAME HOLMAN: When we talked with Zach Wamp yesterday, he was about to go to the White House, at the invitation of the president.
KWAME HOLMAN: When you go to the White House this afternoon, are you going to be asked not to offer your amendment in the committee tomorrow?
REP. ZACH WAMP: I expect to be asked not to offer my amendment, but again, Ambassador Bremer’s doing an outstanding job and he’s an intellectual, and he’s really i think the best man for the job in Iraq, but I still have not been convinced that this is not the right approach. I think it strengthens the president’s hand to have part of this as a mortgage going forward to say to the likes of Germany and France and Russia, if you forgive the pre-war debt you have, we will consider forgiving the debt we are investing in freedom and opportunity today.
KWAME HOLMAN: And today, David Obey, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee voiced his support for Wamp’s loan idea, but for a different reason.
REP. DAVID OBEY: America has no prospect in the next 20 years of being able to pay off our foreign debt or any portion of it because we have such a huge trade deficit. But Iraq is in a very different position. They’ve got $7 billion in oil in the ground. And at some point in the future they’re going to be in a heck of a lot better position than we are. But Arizona’s jim kolbe, like most Republicans on the committee, thought the loan idea was a bad one.
REP. JIM KOLBE: Mr. Wamp’s amendment would withhold half of this for purposes for doing it as loan later, and he says the first half is going to be done for, the priorities are going to be telecom, transportation, water, electricity; well over 3/4ths of the chairman’s amendment for reconstruction is for exactly those things, so which part of it is he going to withhold until we get the democratically elected government in place? What part are we not going to do now, and we’re going to do in loans in those exact same things we’re talking about there.
KWAME HOLMAN: In the end though, Zach Wamp withdrew his amendment.
REP. ZACH WAMP: I’m going to reserve the right to withdraw my amendment before we have a vote for two reasons. One, is I don’t have the votes to pass it and number two is the President of the United States said to me yesterday at the end of conversation – and this is the bottom line in a lot of ways i said, please tell me, sir, do you believe in your heart that the passage of my amendment would ultimately jeopardize our ultimate success in Iraq and he that believes it would.
KWAME HOLMAN: Describing his White House meeting off camera, wamp said: If the president’s eyes had been lasers, “mine would have been burned out.” The House Appropriations Committee went on to approve its $87 billion spending bill by a wide margin. The full House and Senate are expected to vote next week.