- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

Both the House and Senate yesterday passed versions of the president’s request to pay for continuing the war on terror and rebuilding Iraq, but not before the Senate stripped $1.8 billion out of the administration’s request and made part of the remainder a loan rather than a grant to Iraq.

The Senate, on a voice vote, eliminated many of the small reconstruction projects included in President Bush’s original $87 billion request, such as a ZIP code study and an Iraqi enterprise business fund.

“A number of these expenditures don’t pass the smell test,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, who sponsored the amendment to strip the money.

The Senate then passed its bill 87-12, with 37 Democrats joining 50 Republicans in voting for the bill. Eleven Democrats and the chamber’s independent voted against it.

The House passed a bill that more closely resembled the president’s request. The vote was 303-125, with 83 Democrats joining all but six Republicans in supporting for it.

The differences will now be hammered out in a conference committee. The chief issue will be whether the reconstruction money should be a grant, as the administration wants and the House passed, or partly a loan, as the Senate passed.

Still, both bills give Mr. Bush most of what he wanted and Republicans said the strong votes, including many Democratic leaders, show that the president’s policy remains popular.

“Look at the votes we just took. Congress supports this president and the mission in Iraq,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and chief deputy whip for House Republicans. “I think Congress is telling the American people this is part of the war on terrorism.”

Mr. Bush’s proposal had earmarked $66 billion for the U.S. military and about $21 billion to help rebuild Iraq.

Under the Senate bill, half of the reconstruction money would be an immediate grant and the other half would be loaned to Iraq under generous terms that include the possibility of forgiveness. The loan amendment passed 51-47 Thursday, with the help of eight Republicans.

The administration strenuously opposed the concept of loans, and won a victory when the House on several occasions rejected loan amendments.

Both House and Senate Republican leaders said they would fight against loans in the conference committee.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told reporters he was confident the conference would produce a bill “the administration will be excited about.” The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, both Republicans, also promised to fight against loans.

But Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat and one of those who led the bipartisan loan effort, said Republicans would have to be wary of removing the loans.

“I think it’s got political costs to stripping it out, because the American people favor loaning part of the reconstruction costs, or at the very least are bothered by giving American money that, if it’s ever repaid, will come behind all these Saddam [Hussein] era loans,” he said.

Among Democratic leaders in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey voted against the funding, while Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland voted for it. Presidential contender Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri also voted for it, while another White House hopeful, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, opposed it.

In the Senate, both Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Minority Whip Harry Reid of Nevada voted for the funding, as did presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Two other Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina, voted against the funding.

Mr. Daschle said the fact that the Senate did curtail the president’s request in several ways showed the president’s support is tenuous.

“There is a level of support for the administration’s position in Iraq that gives them the benefit of the doubt. But I would say that benefit of the doubt is eroding,” Mr. Daschle said. “The longer we go, the more erosion will continue unless this president can show some tangible results.”

Polls show most Americans opposed to spending so much in Iraq, even when they are told most of the spending request goes to supply the U.S. military.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he believes loans to Iraq are a key component to keeping Americans behind the war effort.

“We’ve given lives and we’ve given money, all we’re asking is some of that money be paid back when they can afford to pay it back,” Mr. Graham said. “I see this as the first step — sort of a wake-up call that we need to tend to the domestic aspects of this more.”

During the debate this week, the Senate also approved an amendment to raise the Army’s full contingent of active-duty troops by 10,000. There was no corollary provision in the House bill, and the conference committee will have to work out the issue.

“We’re doing some missionary work in the House, and there’s some favorable reaction to it,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and one of the amendment’s sponsors.

Meanwhile, the House passed an amendment by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, that prohibits any U.S. funds from going to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the worldwide oil cartel.

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