- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

The full Senate rejected an attempt yesterday to split the $87 billion Iraq spending bill into two parts — one for replenishing the military and one for rebuilding Iraq.

That means the bill will be passed whole and relatively quickly — a victory for Republicans and the White House. But there is growing sentiment among Democrats and many Republicans the $20.3 billion reconstruction grant to Iraq, included in the package, should instead be a loan.

It marked the second time Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, tried to split the bill into two parts. His first attempt in the Appropriations Committee failed Tuesday, and yesterday’s attempt in the full Senate failed 38-59, with nine Democrats joining all but one of the Republicans in voting against it.

House Republican leaders are committed to producing a single bill as well, so both chambers are now certain to produce one large spending bill, as the president has requested.

Now, though, they must figure out how to defend against amendments that would finance the reconstruction money either through a loan that must be repaid or by using future Iraqi oil proceeds as collateral.

Democrats and Republicans say they are particularly concerned that the United States will be sending money to Iraq even as the country is paying off up to $200 billion in debts owed to other nations.

“There’s a real concern we will be pouring money in Iraq which they will be turning around and repaying loans to Germany and France and Russia,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio. “There are already plans in appropriations to keep that from happening, but the money-is-fungible argument comes back.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said he is working on legislation that would state Congress believes these creditors should forgive Iraq’s debt.

“If our European allies lent billions of dollars to Saddam Hussein, let them go collect from Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, said Iraqi officials told them France holds about $8 billion of Iraq’s government debt, Russia holds about $7 billion to $8 billion, and Germany holds $2.5 billion.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said leaders are working on compromise language to give the president leverage in trying to get Iraq’s creditors to forgive some of the debt.

The Bush administration remains opposed to changing the money from grants to loans.

“This is about helping the Iraqi people build a better future. We think that the best approach is to proceed forward with the grant. And that is exactly what we will continue to push for,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “We’re appreciative of members of Congress who are working with us to do that and get it passed as quickly as possible.”

Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi Governing Council, met with U.S. lawmakers yesterday and even swayed some who had been supporting loans.

“I said in the past I would love to see a portion of this be a loan instead of a grant,” said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican. “A couple of things when you look into it in depth: One, there’s no government in Iraq to make a loan to. There’s no government to pay it back,”

Many lawmakers are also concerned about some of the details of the spending plan.

“The American taxpayer is being asked to pick up the cost of 600 radios and telephones at the cost of $6,000 a piece. Pickup trucks at $33,000 a piece. Iraqi prisoners will be incarcerated at $50,000 per year, more than twice the cost on American prisons,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Ms. Pryce agreed.

“The level of detail submitted by the president is something that’s going to cause us more trouble than help,” she said.

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