HALF A LOAN
WaPo plays up the last night’s Senate vote as a “defial” of President Bush.
Defying weeks of intense White House lobbying, a narrowly divided Senate voted last night to convert half of President Bush’s $20.3 billion Iraq rebuilding plan into a loan that would be forgiven if other donor nations write off the debt incurred by the ousted government of Saddam Hussein.
The 51 to 47 vote came an hour after the Republican-controlled House defeated a similar loan amendment, 226 to 200, setting up potentially difficult House-Senate negotiations next week as lawmakers rush to conclude a final spending plan for Iraq before an international donors conference next Thursday in Madrid.
The Senate and House are poised to approve today nearly all of the president’s $87 billion request for the military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate’s version of the spending measure mirrors Bush’s, although it contains the $10 billion loan provision. The House’s version hews closely to the administration’s but shaves $1.7 billion from the reconstruction fund, stripping out such items as the Iraq Zip code implementation, garbage trucks and a one-month business course that has become politically unpalatable to many Republicans.
The Senate vote was a rare defeat for Bush in the GOP-led Congress, and it came after his intensive personal involvement. It indicated the depth of misgivings about the request among lawmakers of both parties and the constituents who have flooded them with protest letters and calls. Bush has maintained that a loan would confirm Middle Eastern suspicions of U.S. motives in Iraq, but Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said no amount of money is going to change the minds of those who believe the administration invaded for Iraq’s oil.
“I don’t want to give in to a great lie. You can’t buy your way out of this problem,” said Graham, one of the five Republican co-authors of the Senate’s loan provision. “You can’t take $10 billion of taxpayer money, [while] people are losing their jobs, to buy your way out of a great lie. It would be terrible if the people of this country who have sacrificed so much wound up not getting a dime back.”
Of course, this will have to go to conference with the House bill and may not survive.
I’m really not sure what the best policy is here. Frankly, it seems perfectly reasonable to have Iraq pay for much of its own reconstruction once the oil is flowing again. We’re still going to be spending well over $100 billion to have our troops on constabulary duty overseeing the project; having a comparatively resourch-rich state pay for some of its own infrastructure doesn’t obscure that fact. Still, Iraq is already rather debt burdened from the Hussein era. One wonders if they shouldn’t simply repudiate all of that as being run up by a tyrannt?