WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) told Congress Wednesday that President Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan was an affordable and needed investment in international security.
But a top Democrat questioned whether the American people have ever blessed the massive, U.S.-led Iraqi reconstruction effort now under way.
"Is $87 billion a great deal of money?" Rumsfeld said before the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Yes. But can our country afford it? The answer is also yes. Because it is necessary for the security of our nation and the stability of the world."
Rumsfeld cited progress in reopening Iraqi schools and hospitals and training a new Iraqi army.
Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers (search), the Joint Chiefs chairman, and Gen. John Abizaid (search), the head of U.S. Central Command, were appearing before the committee as the Bush administration continued its intensive push for approval of the $87 billion request.
At the same time, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer (search), was making his third Capitol Hill appearance in three days, appearing before the Foreign Relations Committee. He was also going before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday afternoon and meeting with two other panels on Thursday.
Bremer and Rumsfeld's appearances come at a time when partisan fighting has increased.
In a bristling exchange, Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., challenged Rumsfeld on the $20.3 billion part of Bush's plan that would go toward rebuilding Iraq and establishing a democratic government.
"Secretary Rumsfeld, where is the mandate from the American people to carry out the reconstruction of Iraq?" Byrd said. "When did the American people give their assent?"
Rumsfeld cited the resolution Congress approved allowing force against Iraq and defended rebuilding as being in U.S. interests.
"Once having gone in, the last thing we need to do is turn over that country to another dictator like Saddam Hussein," he said.
Underlining the partisan tensions over Iraq, when Byrd continued asking questions, committee chairman Ted Stevens, R-Ala., cut him off, saying Byrd had already exceeded his allotted time by seven minutes.
"Seven minutes," Byrd said. "Think of that, on an $87 billion request."
Bremer was appearing before a panel whose leaders had been urging the administration since before the war to lay out its strategy for rebuilding Iraq. Both Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., have criticized the administration for failing to acknowledge the long-term costs and commitments involved.
The Foreign Relations hearing specifically addressed what a five-year plan for Iraq would entail. Lugar said he has advocated a five-year plan "not because I believe the United States must stay in Iraq for exactly that length of time, but because such a plan would demonstrate commitment, promote realistic budgeting, and help prevent policy drift."
He said a plan is needed to build confidence among Iraqis.
"Many Iraqis have had a difficult time understanding how the most powerful nation in the world could defeat their armed forces in three weeks and still have trouble getting the lights turned on," Lugar said.
Biden said Bush's foreign policy "so poisoned the well" before the war by failing to build a broad international coalition, that next month's international donors conference is unlikely to generate more than $2 billion or $3 billion in support.
"It's a terrible indictment, in my view, of our foreign policy and a harsh example of the price of unilateralism," he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said her constituents are telling her it was "a brilliant military campaign, but this administration was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, wrong about what would happen after the war, wrong on what it would cost to rebuild Iraq, wrong on how many troops would be needed, wrong on oil revenues, wrong on how much other countries would contribute."
Republicans also voiced some discomfort. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio questioned prospects for international contributions, so "that this isn't just going to be Uncle Sugar's full responsibility."
Several Republicans expressed concern about whether the Iraqi constitution would protect religious freedoms and other civil liberties. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas urged Bremer to insist that those rights be included. "They are foundational. And I don't hear that coming from you," he said.
But many Democrats acknowledge that the $87 billion request likely will be approved. They say they can't deny the money that the Pentagon says is needed for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.