Friday, October 29, 2004

Bush Threatens to Veto $87 Billion Iraq Bill

Bush Threatens to Veto $87 Billion Iraq Bill
Bush counts on his supporters having no memory
White House Groans Over LoanWASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2003The Bush administration threatened for the first time Tuesday to veto an $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan if Congress converts any Iraqi rebuilding money into loans. White House officials issued the warning even though many lawmakers agree that the bill's final version is likely to bow to President Bush and omit any loans. By underscoring Mr. Bush's opposition to loans, the administration threat could make it easier for congressional Republican leaders to nail down enough votes to help the president prevail. The House bill included $18.6 to help Iraq rebuild its water supplies, health clinics and Army, and made the money a grant that country would not have to repay. The Senate included $18.4 billion but would require Iraq to repay about half — unless Saudi Arabia, Russia and other countries forgave 90 percent of the debt Baghdad ran up under Saddam Hussein's regime. Mr. Bush and a host of administration officials had repeatedly expressed their opposition to loans in recent weeks, but had not issued a veto threat before. A letter written Tuesday reiterated White House arguments, but contained the first such veto warning. "If this provision is not removed, the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," wrote White House budget director Joshua Bolten. "Including a loan mechanism slows efforts to stabilize the region and to relieve pressure on our troops, raises questions about our commitment to building a democratic and self-governing Iraq, and impairs our ability to encourage other nations to provide badly needed assistance without saddling Iraq with additional debt," the letter said. Later this week, U.S. officials are hoping to get billions in pledges from foreign countries at an Iraq donors' conference in Madrid. So far, according to The New York Times, Japan has pledged $1.5 billion for next year and more in the future, Britain said it would donate $800 million, Spain nearly $300 million and Canada $260 million. The Pentagon estimates Iraqi reconstruction will require $55 billion. Were Congress to pass the Senate version of the reconstruction bill, countries could follow the U.S. example and provide loans rather than grants. In addition, U.S. officials are hoping to steer the donors' conference away from debt relief and toward grants. If the U.S. reconstruction plan links America aid to debt relief, it might be difficult to get donors to focus on new aid. Loan supporters say that with some of the world's richest oil reserves, Iraq should be required to eventually repay some U.S. aid. That is especially true with the United States facing record federal deficits, and many members of Congress hearing requests from their home districts for more funds for local roads and other projects. House-Senate bargainers hope to reach compromise on a final version of the bill next week. Both houses overwhelmingly approved similar bills Friday providing most of the $87 billion that Mr. Bush requested for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and for rebuilding the two countries. The House vote was 303-125, while the Senate roll call was 87-12. The loans-vs.-grants debate concerns only a portion of the massive bill, which provide nearly $66 billion for U.S. troops in the field. Both chambers chopped nearly $2 billion off the $20.3 billion he requested for retooling Iraq's oil industry, its court system and the rest of its economy and government. Minutes before final passage, the Senate voted by voice to strip nearly $1.9 billion from that part of the bill, erasing money for ZIP codes, sanitation trucks and other items that some lawmakers had derided as frivolous. The House had already killed most of those same items. Senators also voted to add $1.3 billion for veterans' health care programs. The bills also contained rebuilding aid for Afghanistan; assistance for Pakistan, Jordan, and other U.S. allies; and cash for rewards for the capture of Saddam and Osama bin Laden.
As part of the $87 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush's $20.3 billion proposal for rebuilding Iraq includes:
$2.9 billion to repair the electrical system
$150 million for emergency communications system
$150 million for a new children's hospital in Basra.
$130 million for irrigation projects.
$125 million for railroads.
$100 million to protect witnesses
$100 million for war crimes experts
$100 million for housing
$99 million for prisons
$67 million for guards
$55 million for an oil pipeline repair team
$30 million for English classes
$9 million to modernize Iraq's postal system
$1 million for a museum on atrocities by Saddam's regime. AP
Reuters version
Tue October 21, 2003 01:01 PM ET By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto an $87 billion bill for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq if Congress keeps a Senate-passed provision to convert $10 billion of the package into loans.
The chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee meanwhile said he was confident the loan provision would be eliminated when a House-Senate conference meets to reconcile differences in their two versions, enabling a final measure to be sent to President Bush.
"I believe the House position will prevail. We are determined to support the president," said Rep. Bill Young, a Florida Republican.
But sentiment remained strong among lawmakers in both chambers to make Iraq repay a portion of the $20 billion Bush wants for Iraq's reconstruction from its future oil revenues.
White House budget director Joshua Bolten in a letter to the House and Senate appropriations committees said the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto if the loan was not dropped from the final bill.
"Including a loan mechanism slows efforts to stabilize the region and to relieve pressure on our troops, raises questions about our commitment to building a democratic and self-governing Iraq, and impairs our ability to encourage other nations to provide badly needed assistance without saddling Iraq with additional debt," Bolten said.
The Senate last week narrowly voted to make $10 billion of the package into loans, while the House narrowly defeated a similar measure pushed by Democrats. House Republican leaders had maneuvered to prevent a vote on a Republican loan plan.
The House later Tuesday was to take a nonbinding vote that Republicans acknowledged could put a majority on the record in support of the loans, as well as additional money for veterans' health care and improvements in the quality of life for U.S. troops in Iraq.
John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said he did not feel that vote would be significant. "We're not going to send the president a bill he's going to veto," he said.
Young said he expected a final bill will be ready later this month to send to Bush, and said conferees will meet on next Tuesday on the bill.
While the bill could not be completed as hoped in time for international donors conference for Iraq on Thursday and Friday in Madrid, he said, the strong House and Senate votes last week for somewhat different measures demonstrate the United States will offer at least half of rebuilding money in grants and should encourage other donor countries.
"The United States is committed. Both houses have passed one version or another for a construction grant," said Young.

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