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House, Senate Approve Iraq Aid Package

GOP senators challenge Bush by making part of the $87 billion a loan. His position will be tested when Congress works on a final version.

October 18, 2003|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate on Friday approved nearly $87 billion for U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Senate challenged President Bush by imposing conditions, setting the stage for negotiations that could test his political muscle.

The House, which passed the measure on a 303-125 vote, largely gave Bush what he wanted, including nearly $20 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to help rebuild Iraq. But the version approved by the Senate, 87 to 12, would require half the reconstruction funds to be a loan, a provision opposed by the White House.

The dispute came at an awkward time for the administration, which argued that a loan provision would saddle Iraq with more debt and discourage other countries from contributing to the effort. About 75 nations are scheduled to attend a donors conference next week in Spain, where the U.S. is hoping to raise substantial funding for Iraq.

Passage of the spending measure also came as Democrats have become increasingly critical of the president's Iraq policy and have sought to highlight the administration's increased expenditures abroad while the federal budget deficit grows and domestic programs are cut.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 22, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Representative's hometown -- An article Saturday about House and Senate approval of nearly $87 billion for U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan incorrectly listed Pleasanton as the hometown of Democratic Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher. She lives in Alamo.

In addition, the Senate vote was the latest rebuff to Bush from members of his own party. In recent months, the GOP, which controls Congress, has voted to oppose administration rules that would reduce the number of workers eligible for overtime pay and relax rules on media ownership.

After Friday's votes, Bush praised the House and Senate for acting to "provide the resources necessary to make Iraq more secure and support its transition to self-government, which is critical to winning the war on terror."

But he also criticized the Senate, saying the loan provision would "slow the reconstruction of Iraq, delay the democratic process, and send the wrong message to both the region and the world."

Congressional Republican leaders predicted that Bush's position would prevail when House and Senate negotiators met next week to reconcile differences. "Without the people of Iraq being provided with the fundamental services they need to conduct a normal life, sooner or later, [they] will turn against us," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"I believe in this president," Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said. "Those who vote against this bill will be voting against supporting our men and women in the field."

But Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who voted against the measure, challenged the assertion that its opponents were not supporting the troops.

"I defy that statement, and I hurl it back into the teeth of the senator from Alaska," he said. He added that he and others opposed the measure because they "do not believe this war was justified."

On Thursday, eight Republicans joined 43 Democrats in the Senate to pass the loan amendment, despite heavy lobbying by the administration. Under the amendment, half the $20 billion would be treated as a loan unless other nations, such as France, Germany and Russia, forgave most of the at least $95 billion they are owed by Iraq.

Several Republicans who favored a loan provision said they would vote for the final package, even if the provision was stripped out.

"I'm going to support our troops," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

But the lawmakers also defended the provision.

"When you vote against the president of your own party, it's not a pleasant thing to do," said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). He said the loan would strengthen Bush's hand in persuading other nations at the donors meeting to forgive Iraq's debt.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who also backed the loan provision, said, "I'd like the taxpayers at home to know that we're going to start looking at your interests some too."

Lawmakers are "clearly nervous about granting $20 billion for reconstruction in Iraq while telling their constituents that we have to cut spending at home because of the growing budget deficit," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group in Virginia.

But whatever qualms lawmakers might have about the reconstruction aid, he said, most would "probably not want to vote against the bulk of the bill, which goes to support the military effort."

Both the House and Senate measures would provide roughly $66 billion for military operations, funding that enjoys bipartisan support.

The measures also include about $18.6 billion for reconstruction. The Senate on Friday joined the House in trimming almost $2 billion from the $20.3 billion Bush had requested to fund projects, such as establishing a ZIP Code system in Iraq.

Funds are provided for, among other things, security, including recruiting, training and equipping police and deploying a new Iraqi army; repairing the country's electricity grid; and rebuilding its oil infrastructure.

California's Democratic senators were divided on the measure, with Dianne Feinstein supporting it and Barbara Boxer opposing it.

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