WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress is poised to give President George Bush $80 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate is expected to pass the measure Monday. In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday afternoon, every Democrat joined the Republicans in supporting the extra money, but that doesn’t mean they were happy about it.
"If the president’s request is approved, the Congress will have approved more than $210 billion for the war on Iraq," complained Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia before joining the rest of the Committee’s Democrats in voting for the war money.
Byrd complained the Bush administration was demanding $192 billion in cuts in domestic spending over the next five years, roughly equivalent to the amount spent so far in the Iraq war. Those cuts, he said, included charging veterans for their medical care, underfunding the No Child Left Behind Act, and cutting dollars from the budget of the National Institutes of Health. "By approving an emergency supplemental for the war," he said, "we are making a choice."
Of the $80 billion, Congressional staffers told me $6 billion would likely go to Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton. None of it will go to rebuilding Iraq. That’s because most of the $18.4 billion set aside for reconstruction last year hasn’t been spent.
In addition, a Jan. 30 report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction noted that much of the money previously set aside for rebuilding the country’s damaged infrastructure has been rerouted elsewhere.
$3.1 billion that was supposed to be spent on rebuilding Iraq’s water and electric grid has been given over to the military.
That didn’t trouble the senators. Republican Larry Craig of Idaho told me that "it’s the environment of the current situation" that is stalling the reconstruction, but that more money for U.S. troops, coupled with a new, elected Iraqi government, will bring bring more stability. "As stability grows," he said, "I think you’ll see more reconstruction."
Peace groups see the situation differently. Peter Lens, Iraq program director for the American Friends’ Service Committee, says the senator has it backwards. He says the U.S. government needs to de-link the occupation and reconstruction.
"Of course they have not been able to get the projects finished," Lens said, "because they’re using U.S. contractors. They’re using organizations that are part of the coalition occupying Iraq, and so what is happening is that the reconstruction is being seen as an arm of the occupation."
In the meantime, regular Iraqis endure dirty drinking water and are more likely to have electricity than not.
"It’s difficult for people outside Iraq to understand what it’s like to not have electricity or clean drinking water after two years of occupation," AFSC’s Lens said. "People are more likely to not get electricity than to get electricity. Large reconstruction projects for water treatment and water sanitation haven’t been done, so the quality of life and basic needs of Iraqis are not being satisfied."