KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee followed through on the president's request, and yesterday sent the $87 billion emergency spending bill to the Senate floor, but approval came only after hours of heated debate behind closed doors as to why Iraq's reconstruction should be paid for by American taxpayers. Those arguments were aired again today. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin:
SEN. DICK DURBIN: Though the administration and the military may have had an excellent plan for the military conquest of Iraq, they did not have a plan to rebuild that nation, they had no idea what it would cost, and they come to the American people today asking for more money than was ever imagined even six months ago by the leaders of this same administration.
KWAME HOLMAN: Montana Republican Conrad Burns:
SEN. CONRAD BURNS: Sure, it's a lot of money, but money's a tool. Money's a tool that can bring good or it can bring evil, and we have chosen to use ours in the name of good.
KWAME HOLMAN: Included in the president's $87 billion request are nearly $66 billion to pay for continued military operations both in Iraq and Afghanistan; the remaining $21 billion would be earmarked for reconstruction efforts, almost all of it to be spent in Iraq. For instance: Upgrading the electric power infrastructure, $5.7 billion; equipping Iraqi police and military personnel, $4.2 billion; upgrading water and sewer systems, $3.7 billion; improving the oil industry, $2.1 billion. But Democratic leader Tom Daschle also cited what he called substantial hidden costs.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The American taxpayer, for example, is being asked to pick up the cost of 600 radios and telephones at a cost of $6,000 apiece; pickup trucks at $33,000 apiece; Iraqi prisoners will be incarcerated at $50,000 per year, more than twice the cost than American prisons; and Iraqi entrepreneurs will receive business training costing $10,000 per month, more than two and a half times the cost of an education at Harvard Business School.
KWAME HOLMAN: North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, a critic as well, proposed paying for Iraq's rebuilding through loans that eventually would be repaid using Iraqi oil revenues. Dorgan called the Bush administration's plan a $21 billion grant.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: The result would be perverse if what we constructed here was a series of grants to the tune of nearly $21 billion to the government of Iraq, and the American taxpayer would bear the burden of that $21 billion in expenditure, and then Iraq would pump its oil, sell it on the open market, and use its resources then from selling its oil to ship cash to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and, yes, Russia and France and Germany. I just don't understand how anyone thinks that is in our interests.
KWAME HOLMAN: Dorgan's loan idea has gained the support of several Republicans in recent days, but Arizona's John McCain is not one of them. He argued committing Iraq's oil reserves for repayment would undermine U.S. credibility in the region.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: We would make our immediate task of reconstructing and securing Iraq much more difficult because collateralizing Iraqi oil revenues would encourage more Iraqis to believe the message of the Baathists and terrorists who oppose us, that we are in Iraq not to help the Iraqi people build a better future, but to serve our own narrow ends at their expense. Ironically, we would also make it more difficult for American forces to leave Iraq, by handicapping Iraqis' ability to reconstruct their country and govern themselves.
KWAME HOLMAN: That's the point Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made yesterday while answering questions before the House Appropriations Committee.
REP. JIM KOLBE: Everybody says lots of oil revenues. Why not do this as a loan instead of giving it as assistance?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: First is one that was well discussed up here; that is, when the total of debts that Iraq owes, plus reparation debts, both brought about by Saddam Hussein, there's a pretty crushing debt burden on the people of Iraq, and one I don't think we would want to add to it.
KWAME HOLMAN: And this is what Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraq governing council, said during a visit to the Capitol yesterday:
ADNAN PACHACHI: We hope it will be a grant, not a loan, because Iraq is already burdened with very heavy loans, and if there is going to be a change, after all the publicity given, from a grant to a loan, it will have very adverse effects, both in Iraq and in the region, I think.
KWAME HOLMAN: But on the Senate floor today, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, one of the administration's harshest critics on Iraq, said whether it's a loan or a grant, the president's funding request is of biblical proportions.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: $87 billion. That is $87 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born: $87 for every minute since the water was changed into wine.
KWAME HOLMAN: Byrd later suggested the Senate divide the spending bill, immediately approve the money for the military, and devote greater scrutiny to the reconstruction request. Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens did not agree.
SEN. TED STEVENS: I do believe that the plan the president has presented is one that could work. Now, I'm not here to say I know it will work. It could work.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon, the Senate voted to keep the military and reconstruction money together in one bill. However, several Republicans endorsed Democrat Byron Dorgan's idea, and filed an amendment that would convert half of the $20 billion in reconstruction money into loans and loan guarantees. A vote on that could come tomorrow.