WASHINGTON – Lawmakers will keep pressing the Bush administration until they get a detailed explanation of its strategy in Iraq, a senator said Wednesday, opening a second day of sometimes contentious hearings on the increasingly violent occupation.
Citing a host of questions about the planned transfer of power in Baghdad June 30, Sen. Dick Lugar (search) said his Senate Foreign Relations Committee "will be persistent in asking these questions and others because the Americans should have the opportunity to understand the administration's plan and to carefully monitor its progress."
Later Wednesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) appeared before another panel of lawmakers, a day after he irritated some senators with a half-hour speech on how brutal Saddam Hussein was, and how much better off Iraq was without him.
Wolfowitz's testimony Tuesday opened three days of hearings that senators hoped would shed light on the administration's strategy for the increasingly troubled campaign in Iraq (search) — information that Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike say the administration has consistently denied them.
"What we've been given is a series of just glossy overstatements ... and how bad Saddam Hussein is ... really, really bad," Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota said sarcastically some three hours into a four-hour hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We have a right to know, and we should be told, what is going on over there, in factual terms, in military terms."
On Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee, Wolfowitz focused more on answering questions that have been raised, though he gave few new details.
"Some say we have no plan. We have a plan," he said referring to U.N. suggestions for forming an interim government to take over from occupation authorities. Senators want to know more — exactly who those people will be, how they will be picked, what happens if fractious Iraqis cannot agree on their selection before the handover?
Appearing with Wolfowitz, Gen. Richard Myers (search), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee Wednesday that recent violence — and the resulting extension of tours of duty for some 20,000 troops — "is going to cost us more money" than budgeted.
He said defense officials are studying their budget now to determine how much. "We're in the middle of that analysis right now," he said.
Wolfowitz was attending two of five sessions planned before three separate panels this week — military panels in the House and Senate and Lugar's foreign relations panel.
Former officials and think tank experts have made up the witness list the first two days. Lugar had strong words for the administration Tuesday when it appeared Wolfowitz was refusing to testify at the senator's hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Saying success in Iraq depends on the administration's credibility, Lugar noted that over the past year and a half the administration has "failed to communicate" its plans to Congress and the American people. But he announced Wednesday that Wolfowtiz had phoned him — said he could not come to due to a family wedding — and was sending another Pentagon official.
Some lawmakers have said that they not only want to hear more about the administration's plans for any problems in the transition of sovereignty back to Iraq, but they want to know what the pricetag will be for a continuing U.S. presence there.
"In this year's budget that we're voting on, for 2005, they haven't asked for one single penny for next year for Afghanistan and Iraq. Give me a break," Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday on a morning network news show.
"They already know that it's going to cost a minimum of $60 billion to keep the troops there," the Delaware Democrat said.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said on the same show that lawmakers want the administration "to be honest with the Congress. Be honest with the American people. ... It's going to be $50 to $75 billion in additional money."
The administration previously has relied in large part on so-called supplemental spending bills — emergency legislation that is apart from the regular budgeting process — to meet war costs.
Wolfowitz told the armed services panel that Iraq has seen the beginnings of a "tremendous transformation" in the year since the invasion, with improvements in health care, schools and other services as well as work toward forming a new government.
"I'm not here to paint a rosy picture or to view this through rose-colored glasses," he said, conceding there are "enormous problems." Officials need to speed up reconstruction work as well as the training of Iraqi forces to be responsible for their own security, he said.
He also noted the violence, in which 100 American troops have been killed fighting insurgencies this month.
During the violence, many lawmakers were in their home districts for spring recess and heard rising voter concerns about the violence.
Senators on Tuesday asked how the transfer of power in Iraq could be accomplished in so little remaining time, what the Pentagon would do if more troops are needed and what it would cost financially.
They also criticized the administration, saying too few troops were sent for the job; there was a lack of planning for postwar operations; troops are being overtaxed by repeated and extended deployments; and that unilateral action has left the United States bearing the bulk of the burden with little hope of getting more international troops to help.