Tuesday November 4, 2003
The United States Congress today gave its final approval for $87.5bn (£52bn) for military operations and aid in Iraq and Afghanistan, a day after Americans in Iraq endured their worst casualties since March.
President Bush will soon sign the $87.5bn package, but his Democratic critics used its final approval by Congress to highlight what they say are his failed policies in Iraq.
The Senate yesterday gave its assent to the legislation three days after the House blessed it by 298-121. It closely tracks the outlines of an $87bn plan President Bush requested on September 7 in a speech broadcast on national television.
"Our country is being tested," the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said in a statement.
"Those who seek to kill coalition forces and innocent Iraqis want America and its coalition partners to run so the terrorists can reclaim control."
He said the money, coupled with assistance from international donors, will help make Iraq more secure and help the transition to self-government for Iraqis. The money also will help Afghanistan become a peaceful, democratic and stable nation, he said.
During yesterday's debate, Republicans defended the package as the best way to restore order in Iraq. The bill is dominated by $51bn for US military operations in Iraq and $18.6bn to restore its oil industry, train police officers and otherwise rebuild the country's economy and government.
"Security brings stability, and stability fosters democracy," said the Senate appropriations committee chairman, Ted Stevens of Alaska, who helped write the bill. That, he said, "offers the fastest way to get our military men and women home."
Democrats were less charitable. A day after 19 Americans died in the bloodiest day for US forces in Iraq since March - including 16 soldiers killed when an army transport helicopter was shot down - many Democrats said what was really needed were more contributions of troops and money from US allies.
"The administration's lack of postwar planning for Iraq is producing an erratic, chaotic situation on the ground with little hope for a quick turnaround," said Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
"We appear to be lurching from one assault on our troops to the next while making little if any headway in stabilising or improving security in the country."
In addition, the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, and four other senior Democrats, wrote to Bush urging him to work harder to get help from other countries and mobilise former Iraqi army units. They said those and other steps would help in "securing and sustaining the support of the American people," as would "levelling with them about the stakes and costs of this effort."
In an anticlimactic vote for which only a handful of senators appeared, Sen Byrd was the only one to vote against.
The "voice vote" let politicians sidestep the rollcall that usually accompanies major legislation. That underscored the complicated political calculus presented by the measure, which was dominated by popular funds for US forces but also sparked questions about President Bush's postwar Iraq policies and record budget deficits at home.
The measure was mostly for the federal budget year running to September 30 2004, though some of the money is for a longer term.
It was the second large package for Iraq and combating terror that Bush has requested and Congress has produced in less than seven months.
In April, it enacted a $79bn bill that included $62.4bn for the war in Iraq, which had just begun, plus other money for Afghanistan, tightened security at home and help for financially ailing US airlines.
The bill completed yesterday includes $64.7bn for US military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The money includes everything from salaries owed reservists called to active duty to buying aircraft parts, missiles and thousands of extra sets of body armour for ground troops.
In the starkest departure from Mr Bush's proposal, there is $18.6bn - $1.7bn below the president's plan - for retooling Iraq's economy and government.
Dropped was money that critics said was wasteful or at least not needed urgently. This included money President Bush wanted for postal and telephone area codes; a children's hospital in Basra, which is patrolled by British troops; sanitation trucks; and restoration of drained marshlands.
Though the president got less than he wanted for Iraqi aid, the White House fended off politicians of both parties who had forced a provision through the Senate making half the aid to Iraq a loan.
A House-Senate deal killed that language last week, leaving the aid a grant that Baghdad will not have to repay.