Date: Sep 12, 2003
Day of Week: Friday
Headline: Durbin recoils at Iraq spending - Democratic senator says
domestic needs should have priority
Byline: By DORI MEINERT
Credit: Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Bush's request for $87 billion to fund military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq is drawing fire from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and other Democrats, who charge the unexpectedly high cost to rebuild Iraq threatens domestic needs.
"This is a much larger request for funds than the president spelled out Sunday night," Durbin said after briefings this week by administration officials. "The American people are waiting for the administration to spell out our plan for our involvement in Iraq."
The president surprised Republicans and Democrats alike with the $87 billion figure he requested publicly in a nationally televised speech Sunday night. Details emerged this week during briefings on Capitol Hill.
But the briefings served, in most cases, to reinforce the partisan
positions previously held by House and Senate members, including those from Illinois.
No one is predicting that the funding request will be denied by
Congress, particularly the $65 billion sought for U.S. troops that has bipartisan support. However, they do expect significant debate over the $22 billion the White House is requesting for rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure.
Durbin, for one, wasn't satisfied with what he heard from the
administration. The total estimated cost of rebuilding Iraq is $100 billion, well beyond the $22 billion currently being requested, he said.
Administration officials weren't optimistic that other countries will contribute, Durbin said, leaving him to believe that this funding request would lead to many more.
"That is a very troubling situation when we can't find the money for our own country, for our homeland security, education and health care," said Durbin, echoing the criticisms of many top Democrats.
However, Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, rejected such criticism as political posturing.
"There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks in Washington, D.C.," said LaHood, contending that the loudest complaints are coming from Democrats running for president.
"I do think we have an obligation to help rebuild the country and
stabilize the country, and part of doing that is making sure we have the money to pay the troops there," LaHood said, pledging to support the president's request.
LaHood, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, also dismissed Democrats' assertions that the growing war costs will leave less funding available for local programs.
But some of his Republican colleagues disagree.
"There's a limited amount of dollars," acknowledged Rep. John Shimkus, who, like LaHood, represents part of Springfield. "It forces debate. It feeds to their (Democrats') line of attack."
But he said he believes his constituents are willing to make the
"I think people are tired of us not doing anything in the war against international terrorism, and they understand that there's a cost and a price to be paid," Shimkus said. "The worse thing we could do is lose our resolve and walk away. Then, you look at this whole operation and say, for what?"
Yet Democrats say it will be difficult to explain to constituents why they're spending billions of dollars on rebuilding roads, schools and hospitals in Iraq when similar projects here at home are underfunded.
Several months ago, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Chicago, introduced a bill that would require the government to spend an additional dollar on domestic programs for every dollar it spends in Iraq.
Since Bush's speech Sunday, a dozen House members have signed on as co-sponsors including one Republican - Rep. John J. Duncan of Tenn.
"I just don't think you can ask the folks here in the United States to pay for services that Iraq is getting while they're being cut back and withdrawn here in the United States," said Emanuel, who now has 94 co-sponsors.
They include Democratic Rep. Lane Evans, who represents the Galesburg area, who has joined with others in the party in calling for hearings to find out how the money will be spent and the administration's specific plan for achieving U.S. objectives in Iraq.
Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., and Reps. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and Jerry Weller, R-Morris, plan to support the president's funding request for Iraq, aides said.
Meanwhile, members of an unusual coalition of Illinois business and labor groups lobbying for more highway funds here this week said the president's hefty request for Iraq could work to their advantage.
"If it's OK to build roads and bridges in Iraq, it's OK to build roads and bridges here," said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley.