TOPICS > Politics

Hard Questions

September 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Divisions in Congress over the president’s $87 billion emergency request for military and rebuilding operations in Iraq were demonstrated clearly today by members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. At the witness table, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman general Richard Myers, and central command General John Abizaid sat and listened as committee chairman Ted Stevens and senior Democrat Robert Byrd squared off.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Are you going to have any outside witnesses? Why not have some outside witnesses?

SEN. TED STEVENS: Senator, I cannot remember an outside witness at a supplemental… emergency supplemental hearing.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Well, you can’t remember an emergency supplemental like this one, either. And I urge you to make provision to call outside witnesses, so that the committee will have more than just the administration line.

SEN. TED STEVENS: Senator, it would be my intention to call witnesses to justify the request of the President of the United States and no one else.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Which would not include outside witnesses?

SEN. TED STEVENS: That’s it. That’s correct, sir.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I hope you’ll think that over, take it under consideration. Don’t rule it out.

KWAME HOLMAN: Byrd then turned his attention to Secretary Rumsfeld.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Secretary Rumsfeld, where is the mandate from the American people to carry out the reconstruction of Iraq? Who has set the parameters for how extensive this nation- building effort should be? And when did the American people give their assent?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you, Senator Byrd. The answer to your question is that in our constitutional process, the president came to the Congress, as we all know; sought a resolution, received a resolution. He recognizes that under Article I of the Constitution, the Congress controls the purse strings, and therefore, he has made this request to the Congress. And certainly the deliberations that we’re currently engaged in…

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: But where is the mandate from the American people to carry out the reconstruction of Iraq and to Democratize that government?

DONALD RUMSFELD: The goal for the United States is not to stay there– or for the coalition. It’s to turn that country back over to the Iraqi people, which is, as Ambassador Bremer pointed out, a seven-point plan to do that through a constitution and elections, and then passing of sovereignty at a pace as rapidly as is reasonable.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: But still I haven’t had an answer to my question as to where the mandate comes from the American people. The American people have never been told that we’re going into that country to build a new nation, to build a new government, to democratize the country and to democratize the Middle East. The American people haven’t been told that. They were told we were going in there because of weapons of mass destruction.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The American people were told by the President of the United States and at the U.N. and here in the United States the reasons for going in. Once having gone in, the last thing we need to do is to turn that country over to another dictator like Saddam Hussein. The least we can do that…

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Nobody’s suggesting that.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, the least we can do is to attempt to put in place a process, a political process, where they can migrate towards something that will not be a threat to their neighbors, that will not repress their people, that will be representative and reflective of the people in that country.

KWAME HOLMAN: At that point Chairman Stevens stepped in.

SEN. TED STEVENS: Senator Cochran is recognized for eight minutes, Senator.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Might I respond to that?

SEN. TED STEVENS: Senator, I had– I was talking in my own time. You’ll have time later.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: All right. Thank you. Thank you for your courtesy.

SPOKESMAN: Senator, I was courteous to you. You have seven minutes over your time.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Seven minutes. Think of that. On an $87 billion request.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans asked hard questions as well. Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Is it realistic, Mr. Secretary, to try to structure some of this with loans from others? Or looking to the Iraqi oil, where I think it is fair to use Iraqi resources to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq. We don’t want that oil. Is there some way we can offset this request in loans or IMF or World Bank?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Senator, I know that this is a subject that’s been looked at very hard by the administration and by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Treasury. The concern is that the Iraqis currently have something in the neighborhood of $200 billion of various types of obligations, whether reparations or debt.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: The $200 billion in debt expended by a tyrant… they’re really bankrupt. I don’t think we have to look toward repayment of that. We’re starting anew, and it seems to me that we can appropriately, by analogy to commercial transactions, look to their assets and to the future.

KWAME HOLMAN: North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan pointed out that Iraq’s largest debts are owed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Wouldn’t it be the height of irony if the U.S. taxpayer is paying for the reconstruction in Iraq while Iraq oil is producing revenues so that the Iraqi people can reimburse Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for debt incurred by Saddam Hussein? That is a Byzantine construct that I personally don’t support.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Senator, I’m– this isn’t my area of expertise, but my understanding is that any debt repayments have stopped. They have been put off under an international agreement until sometime in 2004. And the plan is that between now and then, there would be a significant debt restructuring conference that would take place. And I think that you can be certain that there is no intention that U.S. taxpayers’ dollars are going to go to pay off Saddam Hussein’s debt.

KWAME HOLMAN: Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy picked up on the comparisons some have drawn between the Iraq reconstruction money and the Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Europe after World War II.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Let’s just make sure we understand a few of the facts. Much of the Marshall Plan was on a dollar-for-dollar match by the European nations. It wasn’t direct out from us; much was dollar-dollar match. I keep hearing about what it did for Germany. Germany was not the largest recipient. They were about 11 percent. England was around 25 percent. The Senate held 30 days of hearing. There were 100 nongovernmental witnesses. There were 1,466 pages of testimony. So I just wanted people to understand what the Marshall Plan was.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Chairman Stevens had his own recollections of the Marshall Plan.

SEN. TED STEVENS: You know, I left the military and went through college and then halfway through law school before the Marshall Plan started. We had a military occupation of the areas in Europe for over three years before the Marshall Plan was suggested. Is the other side suggesting we should go through a military occupation for a period of time? Do you want to do that? Do you really want military occupation and not a progress towards democracy in Iraq? I’m supporting this because I believe we’ll get our people home sooner if we move now to create something that will create democracy in Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Stevens said he hopes to have the Iraq funding request approved by the committee and sent to the full Senate sometime next week.