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Paying for Peace in Iraq

October 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: The outcome never was in question. This afternoon the House of Representatives overwhelming approved the president’s request for $87 billion for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with strong Republican and Democratic support. Members had spent much of the time preceding the vote tinkering with the emergency spending bill.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Forty-four thousand troops do not have this bullet proof vest that costs $1500.

KWAME HOLMAN: Dozen of members one after another tried to shift money between the military and reconstruction parts of bill to pay for their own priorities — Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak.

REP. BART STUPAK: This provide as a $265 million incase in the base pay for the military troops. This is an amount needed to provide a $1500 bonus to each person serving including our National Guard and reserve units serving in Iraq or Afghanistan

KWAME HOLMAN: And one after another the amendments failed. Arizona Republican Jim Colby is chairman of Appropriations Subcommittee for Foreign Operations

REP. JIM KOLBE: Mr. Chairman, here we go again. The last amendment cut 50 percent. This only cuts a billion of the dollars out of reconstruction but I’m left with the question what is it that people around here don’t get? We have been told over and over again by our commanders, by everybody that is out there that the dollars we’re spending on reconstruction is pat of national security. It’s just as important as what we do for our guard reserves.

KWAME HOLMAN: The critical questions on the $87 billion spending bill were resolved last night as House members squared off over attempts to convert half of the reconstruction money for Iraq — about $9 billion in the House bill into loans. Wisconsin’s David Obey led the assault on behalf of most Democrats.

REP. DAVID OBEY: All we’re saying is that we should recognize that because of the oil reserves in the ground that Iraq by next year is expected to have a better ability to pay back it’s foreign debt on a per capital basis than the United States does

KWAME HOLMAN: All week long House Republicans had been lobbied hard by the president, vice president and Secretary of State Powell against converting any of the Iraq money into loans. Nonetheless, conservatives rallied behind the idea. California’s Democrat Dana Rohrabacher:

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER: We’re already $400 billion in deficit spending this year. We have to borrow this money in order to give it to Iraq. Which is going to be rich with oil ten years from now and our children are going have to pay that back and their children won’t. That’s ridiculous. It’s obscene.

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Tom DeLay tried to keep the republicans in check by arguing the president’s position on the House floor.

REP. TOM DeLAY: The moment our coalition crossed into Iraqi air space to remove Saddam Hussein from power, we sent a message to the world friends and foes alike that the nexus of outlaw regimes, weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism would no longer be tolerated.

We’ll pay any price and bear any burden to advance the cause of human liberty. After the shock and of aw of major combat the price and burden of human hope shift from the battlefield to the town hall and the town market. And that hope Mr. Chairman cannot come in the form of a promissory note. It’s our fight and now it’s our job

KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders allowed a vote on only one of the loan proposal amendments sponsored by Democrat Obie; 18 Republicans supported it by just as many Democrats voted no and the loan idea failed. But not so in the senate. Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana contracted their own plan. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham was among eight Republicans to vote for the loan amendment.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: We have lost 332 lives liberating Iraq. We’re spending a billion a week to make it secure and all we’re asking for is once the country gets up and going we’re going to build schools and hospitals; we’re going to do great things for the Iraqi people but once the oil refineries get fixed, we pay the money, and once we do other things to get you back in business consider helping us because we’re deep in debt.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators John Kerry and John Edwards both candidates for president interrupted their campaigns to cast votes for the loan conversion. Another candidate, Joseph Lieberman missed the vote. Washington State’s Maria Cantwell was one of four Democrats to vote against, citing the massive debt Iraq already holds.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: We’re going to say you may end up having 200 or $230 billion in debt and you can take a loan; having a loan that is 13 times your revenue is ridiculous. You’d end up spending half of your revenue on the interest payments, so is that message we want to send to the Iraqi people?

KWAME HOLMAN: And Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles of Oklahoma wanted to know who exactly would assume the loan.

SEN. DON NICKLES: There is not a government that can sign this note; there is not an Iraqi government that can say we will be making these payments so maybe it would make people feel better to say there’s a loan. There’s no equity; there’s nobody loaning that money; there’s nobody to sign that note; there’s nobody that has the authority, and that’s supported by the Iraqi people that says yes we’ll be making these payments. Also likewise it greatly complicates efforts to get other countries who currently hold worthless Iraqi paper to right it off.

KWAME HOLMAN: Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss responded.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: When he says who are we going to loan this money to, there’s nobody to sign a note, what are we going to do with this $21 billion; are we going to stand in a hotel window and throw it on the streets of Baghdad? Give me a break. There’s somebody in place to gift money to and I don’t care whether it’s the former government or the coalition provisional authority. There’s an entity in place that is capable of signing a note.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Nelson Bayh loan amendment cleared the senate by four votes and became part of the overall emergency spending bill approved by the Senate today. A House Senate conference is expected to decide by next week whether to send the $87 billion spending bill to the president with the loan proposal attached.

RAY SUAREZ: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight: Shields and Safire, corruption on the Yangtze, a new Alzheimer drug, and LA’s concert hall.