Posted 12:00am October 24
by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
President George W. Bush’s $87 billion plan to reconstruct Iraq and Afghanistan passed in both the House and Senate last week, but not before a contentious debate between lawmakers.
Emotions ran high as both Republicans and Democrats questioned the priorities and financial intentions of the administration. A key concern was the fact that Iraqi hired help would cost only one tenth of the cost of Western contractors, many of whom, some say, are friends of the administration.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-FL, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, had their staff work to revise the plan so that is was more attractive to those fiscal conservatives calling the bill “overly generous.”
Among the expenses cut were $9 million for revising the Iraq zip code system, $4 million to revise phone numbers, $10 million to create television and radio operations, $20 million for a month-long business course at $10,000 a pupil, $50,000 for garbage trucks, $200 million for an American-Iraqi Enterprise Fund for private sector development and $100 million for the creation of seven new communities that would have included 3,528 houses, new roads, schools, clinics, a house of worship and markets. The $400 million that would have created 2,400 maximum security prisons was dropped down to $100 million. An extra $100 million was added instead of $393 million to improve existing health care facilities.
These savings will be sent to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Liberian peacekeeping operations, embassy security, and national reconstruction. $413 million will be sent to military facilities in the United States to repair the damage done by Hurricane Isabel. Fort Monroe in Virginia will receive $65 million and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis will receive $41 million.
One amendment presented by Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., sought to slash $14 billion from the proposed $87 billion. Obey collaborated with Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., of the Defense Appropriations Committee.
Murtha told the press that American troops “are paying a heavy price for the mistakes made in this war. Meanwhile the bureaucrats who made the mistakes aren’t paying any price at all.”
Obey’s amendment had the World Bank and U.S. allies contributing half of the funds while the remaining amount from America could be derived from raising the income tax bracket to the pre-Bush levels for the top percentage of wealthy Americans. Much of the money sent to Iraq would have been in the form of grants or loans. The amendment lost 36 to 25.
What remains of the bill is what has been considered essential to reconstruction. $2.9 billion will go to repairing the electrical system in Iraq and $150 million for emergency communication systems. $150 million will go to establishing a children’s hospital in Basra. $130 million will repair the irrigation system, $55 million for an oil pipeline repair team, and $125 million for railroad operations. $100 million will go to protecting witnesses and $99 million for prisons with an additional $67 million for guards. $100 million will be allotted to enlist in the aid of war crime criminal experts. $100 million will go towards housing and $9 million to modernize the postal system. $30 million will be spent on creating English classes. $1 million will go towards creating museums and monuments to the atrocities of the Hussein regime.
The bill was voted on Friday in both the House and Senate. Key differences in the voting occurred over the amendment that would convert $20 billion in grants into loans. The Senate approved the bill, 87 to 12, and the amendment, 51 to 47. Eight Republicans broke party ranks to support the amendment.
There was a different turn of events in the House, where the bill was approved, 303 to 125, but the amendment was rejected 226 to 200. President Bush issued a statement from his Asian summit where he expressed his dismay regarding the amendment.
“Loans are the wrong approach, they would slow the reconstruction of Iraq, delay the democratic process, and send the wrong message to both the region and the world. The loan provision must be removed in conference,” he said.
The issue will have to be resolved before the President signs the bill.