Frist expects support for $87 billion Iraq request

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com
Despite increasing criticism in Congress concerning an $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan made by the Bush administration, Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Friday he expects "overwhelming support" of the measure when it moves to the Senate floor next week.
"With men and women dying every day, and with losing the war on terrorism, it would be unconscionable for the Senate not to support the president and our men and women in the war on terror," Frist said in a teleconference.
In an attempt to defend the request, the Bush administration on Friday re-framed rhetoric to reflect a more patriotic tone by calling it a "wartime measure essential to the battle against terrorism," according to The Associated Press.
The request calls for $20.3 billion for rebuilding Iraq, including $100 million for an Iraqi witness protection program, $290 million to hire, train and house thousands of firefighters, and $9 million to modernize the postal service, including establishment of ZIP codes.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, was intensely questioned about the money when he appeared before Congress this week, according to the AP. Lawmakers questioned giving billions to Iraq when spending is being restrained for programs for Americans.
Bremer met with President Bush at the White House on Friday.
Frist said the measure is currently in hearings by the Arms Committee and the Appropriations Committee, which he specifically pushed for, before the Senate debates the request next week. "Seventy percent of those who have been exposed to the hearings, next week, can take debate with it and have it fully aired on the floor of the Senate and look at the pros and cons item by item," he said.
"There are people dying every day in Iraq. When we're at war, the money is important ... We shouldn't separate military from non-military based on an inextricable linkage between them."
Frist also said the $20.3 billion for rebuilding Iraq should not be tied to a loan and repaid by the Iraqis, but should be given in the form of a grant.
"At first blush, most people would say of course they should pay us back, but Iraq has tremendous resources. If you look at Saddam Hussein, since 1979 he has decimated the country and the gross domestic product has been completely destroyed."
Frist also reiterated that oil money was not a motivating factor for war. "There are people who say, 'well, you went to war so that you can get that oil money'. It's not true. It's not necessary and hurts Iraq. For right now, the emergency money should be a grant and not a loan."