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Senate panel votes to block money for Iraq reconstruction

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080501/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq Senate panel votes to block money for Iraq reconstruction By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 49
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080501/ap_on_go_co/us_iraq

      Senate panel votes to block money for Iraq
      reconstruction

      By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 49 minutes
      ago

      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
      pump.

      "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      to be withdrawn eventually from Iraq, money must be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
      troops.

      "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
      Iraq."

      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
      attracted.

      "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
      proposed restriction.

      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
      rebuilding efforts.

      "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
      Iraq.

      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
      Movement.

      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
      too soft.

      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."
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