Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Congress votes in favor of Iraq aid

RECONSTRUCTIONBush got the US$87.5 billion he was after as the House of Representatives put aside its skepticism and voted in favor of the rebuilding plan

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The US House of Representatives gave final approval yesterday to US$87.5-billion legislation to occupy and rebuild Iraq, handing President George W. Bush a major victory despite concerns he has charted a perilous, costly course.

The House voted 298 to 121 shortly after midnight for the huge bill that offers Bush money to support troops and undertake the country's massive rebuilding for up to a year amid mounting skepticism in the US Congress and among the public of a successful outcome.

The US Senate was expected to follow on Monday, sending Bush the measure that backed his plan for a no-strings grant for Iraq's reconstruction instead of loans to be repaid from its future oil wealth.

The bill largely gave Bush what he wanted, providing US$65 billion for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But lawmakers trimmed his US$20.3 billion plan for Iraq's rebuilding to US$18.6 billion, set stricter demands for the administration to account for how the money was used, and tightened requirements for competitive bidding on contracts.

Bush faced down the only serious challenge to his proposal, defeating a rebellion by a number of Republicans and almost all Democrats who said Iraq should repay half of the bill's nearly US$20 billion to rebuild its infrastructure.

The White House had threatened to veto the entire bill if it contained loans, which it argued would undermine efforts to stabilize Iraq, prolong the US occupation, and burden Iraq with more debt.

House-Senate negotiators dropped the Senate-passed provision for loans, striking it from the final measure that the House and Senate were expected to pass by wide margins.

Many lawmakers chafed at Bush's demand that Americans bear the reconstruction costs while Iraq sits on the world's second largest oil reserves. But Republicans said the reconstruction aid will help stabilize Iraq and make US troops there safer.

"Our troops are going to come home when we have been able to help the Iraqis create their own government, create their own security forces, so that they can have some quality of life in Iraq. So this money is going for our troops," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, a Florida Republican.

Democrats said the huge measure, which came after the White House had downplayed the potential costs of the Iraq war, was proof of Bush's flawed planning.

"They have miscalculated the risk, misunderstood the challenge and misrepresented the cost to the American people," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

The bill comes after a US$79 billion emergency package largely for Iraq and Afghanistan passed by Congress in April.

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