Iraq Funding Is Back Before Congress

Last year, Congress gave President Bush only part of what he'd requested to fund the war. Now, with the domestic economy swooning, the president is asking for the rest — $102 billion — while his top general in Iraq is making no promises on troop drawdowns.

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Testimony this week by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker has reignited Congressional debate over Iraq. The war is recently been overshadowed by the shaky U.S. economy. Now, the Bush administration has asked for another $108 billion for the war.

But as NPR's David Welna reports, Democrats appear reluctant to grant that request without adding emergency spending for the domestic economy.

DAVID WELNA: President Bush had a stern message for Congress in his speech on Iraq today at the White House. It concerned the emergency war funding the president is now seeking.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Members of Congress must pass a bill that provides our troops the resources they need and does not tie the hands of our commanders or impose artificial timelines for withdrawal.

WELNA: Mr. Bush also said the price tag of the so-called war supplemental must not exceed the $108 billion he's requested. If it does, he warned, he'll veto it.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): It's the same he said every time a supplemental comes up. I don't know how we've had; he says the same thing.

WELNA: That's Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Reid told reporters he would do all he could to fund the troops.

Sen. REID: But that does not take any ability away from us to do the right thing for the American people. Are we going to negotiate here with all of you as to what were going to try to do with the supplemental? The answer no. But you should also understand that Speaker Pelosi and I were not born politically yesterday. We've been working on this for some time, and we have a plan and we will execute it.

WELNA: Earlier this week, Reid cited a few other things he had in mind for the supplemental. He did not mention any timelines for troop withdrawals, but he did have some ideas to stimulate the economy, such as a summer jobs program or extending unemployment benefits.

Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl rejected such add-ons, saying the funding should only be for U.S. troops.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): They volunteered and they deserve our support, and we shouldn't threaten to withhold that support unless there is also funding for other programs that have a far lower priority than the security of our troops and the security of the United States.

WELNA: With high oil prices swelling Iraq's foreign reserves to above $25 billion, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it makes no sense that the supplemental includes outright grants for rebuilding Iraq.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Speaker): When are the Iraqis going to use some of their budget surplus for their own reconstruction, instead of continuing to take us deeper into debt to pay for that reconstruction.

WELNA: There are bipartisan efforts underway in the Senate, in fact, to make any further reconstruction aid for Iraq come in the form of loans. But Texas Republican John Cornyn, a key White House ally, doubts Iraq is ready to start paying its way.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): There may become a point were we can look at ways that Iraqi funds are used and not American funds. I think we would all like to get to that goal. When we do that, I think it's going to be a matter of some discussion, but I think that is the goal.

WELNA: Democrats did welcome President Bush's announcement today that future troop tours in Iraq will be reduced from 15 months to one year. But Majority Leader Reid said he wanted more than a presidential promise.

Sen. REID: If the president is genuine about providing our troops with the rest, recuperation and training they need, then I call upon him as allies in Congress to allow us to codify this, make it the law of this country.

WELNA: This too prompted protest from Republicans including South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): It would be a disaster for the military to allow a bunch of politicians based on the headlines each week to change troop rotations.

WELNA: The House may take up the Iraq War supplemental next week.

David Welna NPR News, The Capitol.

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