- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

The Bush administration’s request that nearly $20 billion be given to Iraq in the form of a grant rather than a loan for reconstruction is likely to be approved by Congress, a leading Republican senator said yesterday.

“I think it’s going to be a close vote, but I think the grant proposal’s going to win,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, assistant majority leader.

“After all, who would we loan the money to? There’s no one there to pay it back — I mean, we are the guarantor; we’d be loaning it to ourselves,” the Kentucky lawmaker told “Fox News Sunday.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle proposed last week that half the money be given as a grant and the other half issued as a temporary loan until an elected government is established in Baghdad.

Out of the nearly $20 billion, $18.6 billion is earmarked for reconstruction of Iraq and $1.2 billion for Afghanistan.

Under pressure from the White House, Republican Reps. John Culberson of Texas and Zach Wamp of Tennessee backed off their legislative proposals for the money to be repaid.

“I came to the conclusion the Democrats would use it as a political weapon,” Mr. Culberson said.

Mr. Wamp told reporters after meeting with President Bush that he had decided a loan would “jeopardize our ultimate success.”

Mr. Wamp, however, conceded that pressure from the White House was intense.

“My God, if [Mr. Bushs] eyes had been lasers, mine would have been burned out,” Mr. Wamp said.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed that the spending bill will pass but said the money was not in the Treasury.

“We don’t have the $87 billion that the president needs now. We’re probably going to have to borrow it, and we’ll probably end up giving it to him, but the American people are going to be very resentful about that,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

The House and Senate this week will take up the $87 billion emergency spending package for Iraq and Afghanistan that included the reconstruction funds.

Mr. Rockefeller said on “Fox News Sunday” that he planned to vote for the spending bill even though the administration had failed to account for how the money will be distributed.

Mr. McConnell said Mr. Rockefeller and his staff should “read the proposal.”

“It is a plan for exactly how the money will be spent, and if there are objections to certain parts of it, then offer an amendment to delete it,” Mr. McConnell said.

“It’s right there in black and white for anybody who will open their eyes and read,” Mr. McConnell said.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, told CNN’s “Late Edition” that he is not ready to sign on for an outright grant.

“I think we’ve got to talk about it and see if we can’t find better ways to do it than simply to give it to the Iraqis. While we need to rebuild schools and infrastructure in this country — people don’t understand the rationale for that.

Mr. Lautenberg said the United States should lend credit support and a guarantee that Iraq will repay a loan by using the country’s oil for collateral.

Bringing Iraq’s oil into the equation, however, is exactly what the administration is trying to avoid, thinking that would give a political victory to those who contend that control of Iraq’s oil was the goal of the war.

Mr. McConnell said it “plays into the hands of those who suggest that we went into Iraq to get their oil, to encumber their future.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said: “They need that revenue from the oil they sell to further their own reconstruction of their country.”

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