- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

Congressional Democrats have pledged to give U.S. troops in Iraq all the support they need, but have hinted they will try to attach political strings to the money needed to do the job.

Earlier this month, Mr. Bush put an $87 billion price tag on continued peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: $66 billion for supplying U.S. troops and $21 billion for physical and political reconstruction.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other party leaders said they support the troops, but will demand in open hearings a “justification for expenditure” of the reconstruction portion of the funding request.

Mrs. Pelosi indicated that Democrats would use the congressional hearings as an opportunity to highlight what they said was poor planning on the part of the Bush administration for postwar Iraq.

“The president must be accountable in this request, and he must be accountable for not having a realistic plan in place for a secure Iraq,” Mrs. Pelosi said last week. “Lives have been lost. Serious injury has occurred to our men and women, and the increased cost for Iraq has contributed to the deficit and to the bill for the taxpayers.”

The president’s supplemental funding request is expected to arrive on Capitol Hill by the end of this week, and likely will be handled first in the House, which has been well ahead of the Senate in passing spending bills this year.

Mrs. Pelosi said she would like to see separate funding requests for troop support and for reconstruction. Republicans, who control the appropriations process, say that is not going to happen.

“It’s all one and the same,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “Opening the purse strings has to be justified, but then it will be passed. The entire request from the president is to complete the war on terror with victory.”

The president’s supplemental budget request has emerged as an issue in the Democratic presidential campaign, too.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and presidential aspirant, told the Associated Press last week that he would not vote to spend $87 billion on peacekeeping.

“I’m not going to vote for an open-ended ticket, even though I believe we must do what we need to do” to bring peace to Iraq, he said. “I have some serious reservations about it in its current form.”

At Tuesday’s debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, several candidates suggested that money should be spent on domestic programs rather than Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Republican, echoed that theme.

“We’re being told we don’t have $8 billion to fully fund education. We’re being told we don’t have any money to provide for port security right now. We’re being told we only have a certain amount of money for prescription drugs. You could go on down the list,” Mr. Daschle said. “And there are a lot of people asking the question: If it’s so urgent to get this reconstruction money to Iraq, why isn’t it equally urgent to ensure that we reconstruct our priorities and our needs here at home?”

A high-level Republican House aide said that despite the “nit-picking” over the Iraq funding, Democrats will vote for it.

“The Democrats are doing what [Republicans] do with the minimum wage,” the aide said. “Stand up and give every reason why it’s bad, but eventually vote for it. You get all of the political benefits of appealing to the party’s base without the political damage.”

But playing that game with a war on, the aide said, may be more dangerous.

“What [the Democrats] will end up doing is marginalizing themselves,” the aide said. “If they are going to be on the side against complete victory in the war, they are putting themselves in a box. That hurts them.”

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