Although the final tab for the U.S.-led war against Iraq remains unknown, the Bush administration does not expect American taxpayers to bear the entire burden for rebuilding the country, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress on Thursday.
“When it comes to reconstruction, before we turn to the American taxpayer, we will turn first to the resources of the Iraqi government and the international community,” Rumsfeld said.
The administration plans to tap frozen Iraqi assets, revenue from the country’s oil fields and contributions from U.S. allies to largely fund the reconstruction effort, said Rumsfeld.
Bush administration officials appeared on Capitol Hill to urge speedy approval of a $74.7-billion measure that would pay for war-related costs through Sept. 30, as well as improvements to anti-terrorism defenses at home.
Congress is expected to approve the emergency spending bill, but only after lawmakers add more money to it for homeland security.
Some also may try to attach aid for the airline industry -- possibly $1.5 billion to $3 billion -- a move the White House has signaled it would oppose.
Appearing before House and Senate committees, Rumsfeld said, “We can’t know how long the effort in Iraq is going to last, and we certainly can’t tell what it’s going to cost.”
But he added that whatever the price tag, it will be worth it “to prevent a chemical, biological or nuclear attack that would make [the Sept. 11 attacks] seem modest by comparison.”
The hearings came on a day when the Senate passed legislation providing tax relief for military personnel and their families. The measure would ease the tax burden for families of U.S. troops killed in the line of duty. Additionally, the bill would grant a capital gains tax break for military personnel who sell their homes during or after a period of extended duty.
The House has passed a similar bill, but differences between the two versions must be reconciled by legislators.
The war continued to stir strong emotions on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wiped away tears while delivering an emotional eulogy on the Senate floor for six Californians who have died in the military conflict.
The House passed resolutions demanding that Iraq abide by the rules of the Geneva Convention for treatment of prisoners of war and calling for a national day of humility, prayer and fasting in a time of war and terrorism.
Rumsfeld told lawmakers that although U.S. troops were closing in on Baghdad, “the campaign could well grow more dangerous in the coming days and weeks” as they face President Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.
“But the outcome is assured,” he added. “The regime of Saddam Hussein will be removed, and the only thing that remains unclear is precisely how long it will take.”
The spending measure includes about $2.5 billion for humanitarian relief and reconstruction, which has caused lawmakers to question whether that amount would be sufficient.
“Reconstruction will require a significant international effort,” Rumsfeld said.
In addition to Iraqi assets and contributions from U.S. allies, an “international donors’ conference” probably will be established to raise money for the reconstruction, Rumsfeld said.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Iraq would play a major role in funding the reconstruction, noting that the country’s oil revenue could generate $50 billion to $100 billion over a two-to-three-year period.
“We’re not dealing with Afghanistan, that’s a permanent ward of the international community,” Wolfowitz said. “We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction.”
Although lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pledged to do whatever they can to support the troops, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) challenged the Defense Department over its request for more authority to spend funds as it sees fit without congressional approval.
“We cannot afford to give this administration or any other administration a blank check,” Byrd said.
In the House, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) objected to a proposal to allow the Defense Department to spend $150 million for “indigenous forces to fight the war on terrorism anywhere in the world” without congressional approval.
But Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told Rumsfeld, “We need to give you all the resources ... you need to prosecute and win this war. We should not even blink.”
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) told Rumsfeld, “Don’t worry about the money. You know and I know that you’re going to get the money. “