WASHINGTON – Once wary of criticizing a popular wartime president's handling of Iraq, members of Congress are shedding their inhibitions.
Returning to Washington this week after a summer break, some are questioning whether President Bush could do more to get help from other countries to secure and rebuild Iraq, whether he has enough U.S. troops there and how much the war will cost in U.S. lives and taxpayer dollars.
Iraq will be among the top items on a busy congressional agenda that also will include efforts to work out a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, a national energy bill and 13 appropriations bills to fund 2004 federal programs.
Frustrations over Iraq have increased in Washington and around the nation as the American death toll has risen. Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike also have been concerned about the speed of setting up an Iraqi government and restoring basic services such as water and electricity.
"I'm not discouraged, but I'm disappointed," said Rep. Henry Hyde (search), the House International Relations Committee chairman. "I think there was less thought given to the postwar, or the post-combat, aspect of the war than should have been."
A strong supporter of Bush, Hyde said in an interview that the United States should be willing to cede some authority in Iraq if needed to attract military help from other countries. The Bush administration has indicated it might be willing to get the United Nations involved, but only if all military forces remained under U.S. control.
"I think it is too great a burden to expect us to single-handedly reconstruct Afghanistan, Iraq, face the other problems in the world -- North Korea (search), Liberia (search) and other troubled spots," Hyde said. "I think we need to look for reasonable compromises."
Hyde, R-Ill., also said the United States needs to send more translators, public affairs personnel and other civilians to Iraq. He plans to introduce a bill setting guidelines for U.S. operations in Iraq. It wouldn't require major policy changes, but hearings on the bill "will provide a focus for the in-depth debate that this whole question needs," Hyde said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will air concerns about Iraq as it calls Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) and Gen. Richard Myers (search), the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, for a hearing Sept. 9 on U.S. military commitments. Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., praises Bush's handling of the war, but has questioned whether U.S. troops are being stretched too thin around the world.
The biggest debate will come when the administration submits a spending bill for Iraq. It is considering asking for a few billion dollars to cover expenses until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. It presumably will need tens of billions of dollars more sometime in the new fiscal year, but hasn't said how much it will request.
"We're working to determine the exact needs and the precise costs going forward," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. "There are a lot of variables involved from international participation to ... troop levels to oil production."
McClellan said the White House is "working closely with Congress to make sure we are providing all the necessary resources."
The United States is spending about $3.9 billion a month on military operations in Iraq, not counting funds to rebuild the country. None of that money is in the 2004 spending bills working their way through Congress.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said money for Iraq should be "in the form of a loan that's going to be paid back either from the oil revenues or from contributions from other countries."
"I believe that the citizens of America have paid their fair share and more of this part of the war on terrorism," said Hutchison, a Senate Appropriations Committee member.
But Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the House appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, said Americans should expect that billions of dollars will be needed to get basic services in place in Iraq and prepare an Iraqi police force.
He said if Bush is straightforward about what is needed "I think he can sell it to the American people and the Congress," Kolbe said.
Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Sunday estimated it will cost the United States $30 billion over five years, not counting military spending.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed article that "the administration should level with the American people about the cost and commitment required to transform Iraq."
McCain and other senior senators also say the United States needs more soldiers in Iraq beyond the 140,000 already there. Military officials say more U.S. troops aren't needed now, though they hope Iraqi and international troops will take over some security responsibilities.