Senate panel votes to block money for Iraq
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 49 minutes
WASHINGTON - A Senate panel has agreed unanimously to
block the Defense Department from funding Iraq
reconstruction projects worth more than $2 million and
to begin to force Baghdad to cover the costs of
training and equipping its security forces.
The provision, included in a 2009 defense policy bill
approved this week by the Senate Armed Services
Committee, comes as Democrats draft a similar
provision within separate legislation that would cover
this year's war spending.
The efforts are part of the latest push on Capitol
Hill to get Iraq to spend more of its own money and
spare U.S. taxpayers. Democrats and many Republicans
say it is unfair that Iraq is looking at pulling in as
much as $70 billion in oil revenues this year while
Americans grapple with soaring fuel prices at the
"We want to send a very powerful message to the Iraqis
and to the administration as to the cost of this war
and the absurdity that a country which is exporting 2
million barrels a day of oil, for which we are paying
when it gets to the pump now $3.50 a gallon" is not
fully paying to rebuild itself, said Sen. Carl Levin,
D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
The White House said Thursday that for American troops
to be withdrawn eventually from Iraq, money must be
spent to help rebuild the country and train Iraqi
"I think it's important that the Iraqis actually are
spending a lot more on their reconstruction than maybe
is commonly understood out there," said White House
deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. "In their most
recent budget, they'll outspend the United States 10
to 1 on reconstruction. ... We are pretty much out of
the business of very large reconstruction projects in
Fratto did not say whether the administration would
threaten to veto the legislation. Lawmakers involved
in drafting the bill said it was unlikely,
particularly because of the bipartisan support it
"They didn't reject it," said Sen. Ben Nelson of
closed-door negotiations this week with the National
Security Council. Nelson, D-Neb., sponsored the
provision along with Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and
Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
The defense policy bill, which will be considered by
the full Senate later this month, would only affect
Defense Department spending in 2009, which is
estimated at $612.5 billion. It is unclear how much of
that money could potentially be used for
reconstruction and therefore might be affected by the
Levin said an attempt will be made on the Senate floor
to expand to the State Department the prohibition on
using taxpayer money for major Iraqi reconstruction.
The State Department handles most of the large
"The intention here is to stop the funding of
infrastructure by whatever department," he said.
The defense authorization legislation specifically
supports smaller rebuilding projects, but would
require the administration to work with Baghdad to
obligate its own money first. It also says the U.S.
must initiate negotiations with Iraq on a broader
agreement to share the costs of combat operations in
Instead of flatly prohibiting aid to the Iraqi
security forces, the bill says the U.S. "shall take
actions to ensure that Iraqi funds are used" to cover
those costs, including the salaries of the forces and
any payments to Sunnis who are part of the Awakening
Overall, the defense policy bill would authorize
$542.5 billion in annual defense spending, as well as
$70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides the reconstruction provision, the
authorization bill would ban all private security
contractors from working in "highly hazardous public
areas where the risks are uncertain and could
reasonably be expected to require deadly force,"
according to a committee summary.
Levin said the Defense Department already imposes such
a rule on its contractors, but the State Department
"was the problem." He said he did not know how many
contractors the new law would affect if enacted, but
said he thought the number would be fairly small.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Defense
Appropriations subcommittee, said Thursday that this
year's war spending bill will likely include a
provision restricting U.S. money on Iraq
reconstruction as well. He said he is recommending
that the bill include $170 billion for combat
operations money that would cover the war until the
next administration takes over in January. His
proposal also would ban permanent bases in Iraq, set
limits on aggressive interrogations and require that
service members sent to Iraq be fully trained and
equipped, he said.
Congressional officials said the administration this
week pushed the Senate Armed Services Committee to let
the president waive any restrictions on reconstruction
funds if he determined it was necessary to protect
national security. Despite support for the idea by the
committee's No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Warner of
Virginia, Collins and the panel's Democrats said
allowing such waivers would have made the legislation
Warner told reporters Thursday that he supports the
authorization bill as it is written, which sends a
"loud message" that "the American people expect no
less than an increased sharing of the responsibilities
and the financial burdens."