|For Bush's Iraq Request, Tough Comparisons Loom
By Jonathan Weisman and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
With lights recently blacked out in the mid-Atlantic and wetlands
conservation being squeezed, President Bush wants to spend nearly $5.7
billion on Iraq's electricity system and as much as $100 million next year
to restore that nation's drained marshlands.
Such comparisons are dogging the administration as it formally launches its
defense of an $87 billion emergency war spending request, which Sen. Robert
C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) yesterday labeled "fiscal shock and awe." And they are
creating a growing sense of unease among Republicans, who say the
president's war spending will no doubt be used against them in next year's
"I have no doubt that some people will be angry," said Rep. James C.
Greenwood (R-Pa.), "and I have no doubt some people will try to take full
L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Iraqi coalition provisional authority,
appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday in the first
of seven hearings scheduled on the president's request, comparing the
emergency spending bill to the Marshall Plan that followed World War II. The
$20.3 billion for Iraqi reconstruction, he said, "bespeak grandeur of vision
equal to the one which created the free world."
"Creating a sovereign, democratic, constitutional and prosperous Iraq deals
a blow to terrorists," he said. "It gives the lie to those who describe us
as the enemies of Islam, enemies of the Arabs or enemies of the poor. That
is why the president's $87 billion request has to be seen as an important
element in the global war on terrorism."
But lawmakers from both parties seem anxious. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)
told Bremer he is getting "pointed questions" from his constituents, who are
demanding to know why a country with the world's second-largest oil reserves
is not paying for its own reconstruction.
A study to be released today by the House Budget Committee's Democratic
staff concluded that the cost of the Iraq war and occupation could easily
reach $417 billion over the next decade, more than the president is seeking
for a 10-year prescription drug benefit for Medicare. Even a benign postwar
scenario would cost taxpayers $308 billion, the Democrats concluded.
"We need at a minimum to recognize the real costs of our operations in
Iraq," said John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the Budget Committee's ranking
The debate has touched the presidential contest, as well. Democratic
candidate Howard Dean recently noted that his health care plan would cost
about $87 billion, "which happens to be almost exactly the amount the
president . . . asked to wage war in Iraq for another year." Given a choice,
he said, Americans would choose "health insurance that nobody can take
Recent events, natural and political, have conspired to underscore
opponents' political charges that Bush is spending more on Iraqis than on
his own citizens. The president is seeking $5.7 billion to rebuild and
expand Iraq's electricity generation, transmission and distribution systems,
just as millions of Americans are regaining power lost to Hurricane Isabel
and Congress is grappling with the causes of August's blackout in the
"Where are we going to find the money to repair our own blackout-prone
electricity grid if tax dollars are to be spent overseas at such a
profligate pace?" asked Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).
Bush wants $856 million to upgrade three Iraqi airports, a seaport, rail
lines and communications systems. Another $470 million would go toward
repairing roads, bridges and houses in Iraq and rehabilitating Iraqi
government buildings. The administration also wants $105 million for
Afghanistan, to rebuild a highway between Kandahar and Herat and start
laying more than 600 miles of smaller roads.
Yet on the home front, the administration and Congress are at loggerheads
over a massive new bill to finance transportation projects. The House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee envisions spending $375 billion
over the next six years, while the White House wants $241 billion.
"Most Americans want us to leave Afghanistan and Iraq with a success on our
hands rather than with our tail between our legs, but I think it would help
a great deal in doing that for the administration to take another look at
what we're doing here in the United States," said Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.),
chairman of the committee's highways, transit and pipelines subcommittee.
And as Republicans battle among themselves over the cost of seniors'
prescription drugs, the White House hopes to spend $878 million on health
care in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Look at the needs we have here at home with our own roads, sewers and water
projects," said Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio). "It's hard to tell people
there isn't money for sewers and water and then send that kind of money to
The fine print of the president's request details how deeply the United
States is delving into the workings of Iraqi and Afghan society. One section
would provide $35 million in part "for the protection of Afghan President
[Hamid] Karzai." Another $37 million would help the Afghan government pay
its civil servants.
Democrats and Republicans in Washington may be bickering over domestic
education funding, but they are likely to approve $40 million to construct
275 schools and train 10,000 additional teachers in Afghanistan. Another $45
million would build 100 Afghan markets and create a land registry.
In Iraq, $875 million is earmarked, in part, to restore drained marshlands,
while at home, the administration has proposed holding wetland conservation
programs in the Interior Department and Army Corps of Engineers to 2002
levels, just over $100 million.
Independent experts say the spending measure's price tag should not be a
surprise. On a per capita basis, it corresponds roughly to the amount the
international community spent on Bosnia in the 1990s.
This time, however, the United States is paying almost the entire bill; in
Bosnia, it paid for 22 percent of the reconstruction costs. James F.
Dobbins, director of Rand's International Security and Defense Policy
Center, said lawmakers could have anticipated this commitment when they
chose to oust Saddam Hussein without enlisting more allies abroad.
"The Congress . . . by an overwhelming majority voted in favor of this
conflict," Dobbins said. "Iraq's 10 times bigger than Bosnia. All Congress
had to do is multiply Bosnia by 10. It's not rocket science."