|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 5-56621 Congress / Iraq Spending
TITLE=CONGRESS / IRAQ SPENDING
HEADLINE: House to Debate Iraq, Afghanistan Funding Bill
INTRO: The House of Representatives (Tuesday) begins debating President Bush's request for nearly 82 billion dollars to support U.S. troops and pay for other needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. House action comes as lawmakers ask more questions about the success the United States and its coalition partners have had to date in training Iraqi military and police forces. More from VOA's Dan Robinson on Capitol Hill:
TEXT: After making its way through various levels of scrutiny by congressional committees, the legislation as it will be debated beginning Tuesday contains 81-point-three billion dollars in spending.
Most of this will go for defense and troop-related requirements, including military equipment and the upgrading of armor for soldiers and vehicles.
/// OPT /// This includes more money for body armor, and modifications to and replacement of Humvees and other vehicles, as well as radios, night-vision goggles, and equipment needed to jam radio-controlled roadside bombs. /// END OPT ///
Just over five-and-a-half billion dollars is devoted to training Iraqi military forces and the goal of turning over more of the security burden to Iraq's developing democratic government.
/// OPT /// The State Department says that, as of February, about 82 thousand Iraqi police, and 60 thousand military forces have been trained and equipped. /// END OPT ///
However, politics swirl around this latest of several Iraq spending bills since 2003, all of which the Bush administration has held outside of the regular fiscal year budget process for the U.S. government.
The strongest complaints come from Democratic lawmakers who say the Bush administration has not been honest about the pace of training Iraqi security forces.
The intensity of feelings was clear during a congressional hearing Monday.
Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich questioned U.S. defense and military officials about a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office regarding Iraqi military training:
//// KUCINICH ACT ///
"GAO has pointed out that there is no means in place to even measure the success of the Iraqi security forces. You should be embarrassed to be here. This is like fantasyland. This is as fictive as the weapons of mass destruction are."
/// END ACT ///
Joseph Christoff is Director of International Affairs and Trade at the U.S. Government Accounting Office:
/// CHRISTOFF ACT ///
"Data on the status of Iraqi security forces is unreliable, and provides limited information on their capabilities. And the coalition must fight a growing insurgency while overcoming problems in the force structure, readiness and leadership of Iraqi troops."
/// END ACT ///
/// OPT /// Left-of-center (politically) Democrats are not the only ones asking tough questions.
Moderate Democratic Congressman Jane Harman spoke at a news conference in early March urging more accountability for spending:
/// HARMAN ACT ///
"(We are) trying to make sure finally that we have transparency in these large amounts of money that Congress is sending the Defense Department outside the budgeting process to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan."
/// END ACT // END OPT ///
Republicans too are concerned about how money is being spent, especially against the background of various investigations alleging waste of funds in Iraq.
Congressman Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican, says there is no question the Pentagon must be given what it needs to take on the security burden, but Congress needs to have more and clearer information:
/// SHAYS ACT ///
"Numbers do matter. We need to know how many have been trained, how many will be trained, and how they will be deployed by the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior to secure their nation."
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/// OPT /// Since 2001, Congress has approved 231 billion dollars for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. /// END OPT ///
The Iraq-Afghanistan war spending bill also contains one-point-seven billion dollars in foreign aid, most of this to support counter-narcotics, reconstruction, and training in Afghanistan.
Also in the bill, Jordan would receive 100 million dollars and Pakistan 150 million dollars. The Palestinian Authority would get 200 million dollars funneled through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
One hundred fifty million dollars is proposed for food assistance for Sudan's western Darfur region, and 656 million dollars for disaster relief in countries devastated by last December's tsunami in the Indian Ocean. (Signed)
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