Udall calls Bush into account for Iraq costs
One can only be shocked and awed by President Bush’s request for $87 billion in emergency funding for Iraq, especially given our weak economy.
With 2.7 million jobs lost since 2001, we are on track to see a net loss of jobs over four years for the first time since the Great Depression. New estimates project $5 trillion in federal deficits over the next decade.
And the president wants more tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy, despite escalating needs for national defense, homeland security, health care and education.
To put it bluntly, we are in one hell of a mess.
One reason I opposed launching the Iraq war was my concern that the Bush administration had a plan only for invasion, not for the subsequent “peace” and occupation.
But Congress unwisely authorized the president to make Iraq the center of our war on terrorism, even without broad-based international support, and did so without a responsible debate that fully weighed the pros and cons of this strategic choice.
The cost and extent of the sacrifice involved was never made clear to the American people. The authorizing resolution amounted to a blank check. Now the bills are coming due.
Today, Americans are understandably anxious about whether we have been led into a quagmire. Those of us in Congress who opposed the authorizing resolution are faced with a difficult choice: Do we vote to provide the funds the president wants, or do we vote against the request to protest a flawed policy?
Americans favor a free and rebuilt Iraq. It seems clear that at least for now the Middle East is safer with Saddam Hussein out of power. But our go-it-alone policies have left us with few friends willing to help cover the costs of his removal or Iraq’s reconstruction.
So long as both the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam himself remain missing, it remains to be seen whether the invasion and occupation of Iraq will make America safer or fuel anti-American terrorist sentiment in the Islamic world. The terrible irony is that the way we have waged this war may mean a loss of precious momentum against Al Qaeda and the creation of conditions for more attacks on our country.
Continued military funding, therefore, is essential to prevent Iraq and Afghanistan from becoming terrorist havens. And with our troops stretched thin, performing longer tours of duty, and short of equipment and supplies, funding for our men and women in uniform must not be held hostage to disagreements about the wisdom or folly of Bush administration policies.
Whatever comes next in Iraq, Congress needs to provide the funding necessary to keep our troops supplied and protected.
As for the requested non-military funding, the administration says its proposal is like the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II.
But the Marshall Plan was not a $20 billion handout. It provided loans as well as grants. So one way to offset reconstruction costs could be to provide loans based on future Iraqi oil revenue.
Congress should also insist that the administration engage the so-called “coalition of the willing” that supported the war, to see how much more they are prepared to contribute in grants and other support.
We should also try to persuade our allies to forgive part of Iraq’s massive debt. And I think Congress should take another look at the size and scope of the Bush tax cuts.
Congress should consider the reconstruction funding separately, and should condition it on White House guarantees of transparency in the awarding of contracts, on the receipt of a detailed administration plan for establishing security and restoring basic services in Iraq, and on requirements that the administration find foreign assistance in providing reconstruction funds. Whether the Republican leadership is wise enough to allow anything but an up or down vote on this controversial package remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, this will not likely be the last vote on this issue. The administration has stated that rebuilding Iraq will take four to five years, and some estimates for the total reconstruction bill go as high as $400 billion. That means another administration request is only a matter of time.
In the future, I will not vote to spend billions of dollars in Iraq unless the administration does what it should already have done: namely, provide detailed plans for Iraq’s reconstruction and security; make concerted efforts to secure increased international participation under a U.N. resolution; demonstrate greater flexibility and openness toward questions of control over reconstruction and democratization; and craft a fiscally responsible plan to provide for the billions of dollars necessary.
U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, represents the 2nd District in Colorado, which includes Summit County.
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