WASHINGTON – A House committee handed a victory to President Bush on Thursday by approving nearly $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan and fending off lawmakers who wanted Iraq to eventually repay some of the aid.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee (search) approved the legislation by 47-14, paving the way to likely approval by the full House next Wednesday or Thursday. All 14 "no" votes were from Democrats, but 15 Democratic members voted for the measure.
The Senate plans votes next week on its own, similar package.
A week of White House lobbying paid off as Republican advocates of using loans rather than grants ended up not even forcing votes on their proposals because of certain defeat.
In recent days, many committee members heard personal pitches from Secretary of State Colin Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Bush himself that loans would slow the rebirth of Iraq's economy and sow suspicion that the United States wanted to control the country's oil.
"He was passionate yesterday," Rep. Zach Wamp (search), R-Tenn., a loan proponent, said of his session with Bush. "My God, if his eyes had been lasers, mine would have been burned out."
The bill has about $65.3 billion for U.S. military expenses in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and $21.6 billion to rebuild those two nations and aid other countries including Liberia. Most of the money from both categories is for Iraq.
Though the House measure largely mirrors the proposal Bush sent Congress last month, lawmakers gave it their own imprint.
They approved an amendment by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., to require more detailed reporting on how the money will be spent. Also adopted was an amendment by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., requiring the administration to show Congress details of no-bid contracts before they are awarded.
By voice vote, members included a provision by committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., that in effect prohibits Rice from administering the funds. The presidential adviser did not need Senate confirmation for her job, and lawmakers said they want the money controlled by an official they could compel to testify to Congress, such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"This is about accountability," Young said after the meeting.
In its other chief departure from Bush's proposal, the bill provides $18.6 billion to rebuild Iraq, nearly $1.7 billion less than the president wanted. Erased were administration proposals to purchase $50,000 garbage trucks, equip traffic police and create ZIP codes for that country.
It includes money for upgrading health clinics, restoring water supplies, encouraging private businesses, supporting women's rights and creating a modern banking system.
"Let's help Iraqis reconstruct Iraq and protect our troops," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.
The split among Democrats underscored uncertainty within the party over the legislation.
Some say the wisest course is to support robust reconstruction efforts as the best way to extricate U.S. troops. But others have focused on the spending package as a proxy for challenging Bush's overall policy in Iraq.
"We have been led into a pre-emptive war that has left us isolated from our allies ... and holding the bag financially, militarily and politically for the reconstruction of Iraq," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the panel's top Democrat.
Obey was among those who voted against the measure, saying, "I don't have enough answers to have confidence that the policy behind this package is the correct one."
Lawmakers also voted:
—To add more than $100 million for work at military facilities in Virginia, Maryland and elsewhere that they said were damaged by last month's Hurricane Isabel.
—To reject an amendment by Obey that would have shifted $4.6 billion from Iraqi reconstruction to the Pentagon, transformed some spending into loans, and paid for the entire $87 billion by canceling tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of Americans.
Congressional GOP leaders hope to have a final version of the bill on Bush's desk by the time potential donor nations hold a conference in Madrid, Spain, on Oct. 23 and 24.