WASHINGTON - Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo wants to know why the United States is handing out $20 bills to Iraqi citizens.
Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.) wants to know why all U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq are not equipped with basic life-saving devices.
And Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.) wants to know why U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraqi prisons are costing $50,000 per prison bed.
These are just a few of the questions that congressional Democrats, and some Republicans, are raising about America's efforts to rebuild Iraq.
While much of the recent public debate has focused on President Bush's request for an additional $87 billion for Iraq reconstruction, some lawmakers are zeroing in on how well the reconstruction process has worked since major combat operations ended May 1.
Among the questions:
So far, critics in Congress are not happy with most of the answers they have gotten from the Bush administration. Mr. Murtha, who has been a strong supporter of military action in Iraq, said the Bush administration needs to fire the advisers who developed the initial plan for after-war operations.
“Somebody has to go. Somebody has to be held responsible,” Mr. Murtha said. “They've thrown this thing together. There are so many holes, so many things we have questions about.... They [Bush administration officials] need to hold accountable whoever came up with the plan. We need to have a better plan.
“They were not prepared. They miscalculated the opposition [of Iraqis] and the state of the infrastructure there. Now they've got to come up with a plan that sounds sensible to the American people,” added Mr. Murtha. “We have made some progress [in rebuilding Iraq]. But we've got to work harder at it and do it faster.”
Despite the problems, Mr. Murtha fully supports the additional $87 billion requested by Mr. Bush for military and rebuilding efforts in Iraq, saying that it is essential to furthering U.S. interests in the Middle East. But he is worried that many other lawmakers, reflecting growing public unease with the Iraq operation, won't vote to approve it.
Many Democrats want to divide the $20.3 billion in reconstruction funds from the main $87 billion package so it can be voted on separately. But GOP congressional leaders, who control both the House and the Senate, intend to keep the package intact. This would allow them to paint any Democrats who voted against it as not supporting U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Murtha agrees with the Republican leadership that the money should not be divided, saying the $20.3 billion is “essential to the security of our troops there.”
Even some Republicans, however, are questioning parts of the proposed reconstruction budget, which includes $54 million for a computer study for the Iraqi postal service, $20 million for a four-week business course for students, and $164 million for a new training curriculum for Iraq soldiers.
Some Republicans wonder why the money must be given as a grant to Iraq, instead of as a loan to be repaid from the country's oil revenues.
In addition, lawmakers from both parties have noted that the money Mr. Bush wants to earmark for problems in Iraq is, in many cases, more money than the federal government spends on similar problems in the United States.
Although most lawmakers believe that Mr. Bush eventually will win congressional approval for the $87 billion package, they note that the debate could be lengthy and could highlight security and other problems in Iraq, further dampening public support for the reconstruction effort.
At a recent hearing with L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led administration in Iraq, Miss Kaptur held up copies of news photos showing U.S. military officials handing out $20 bills last spring as emergency payments to Iraqi civil servants.
“In my life, I have never seen this happen,'' Miss Kaptur said. “We have seen rice and flour and beans being handed out to hungry people. We have never seen pallets of money being distributed.
“Maybe if we hand out enough $20 bills, the Iraqi people will suddenly fall in love with America and with our confused policy of nation-building.”
Miss Kaptur, a member of the House foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, said she was dissatisfied with the little information she gleaned during last week's hearing featuring Mr. Bremer.
“We don't have a full accounting from the Bush administration of how past appropriation dollars for Iraq reconstruction have been spent,” Miss Kaptur said.
“For example, there are some no-bid contracts involved. Who has information about that, who is reporting back to Congress about this? The point is that a lot of these costs are based on wild guesses.”
Miss Kaptur voted for the initial $6 billion appropriation for Iraq operations last spring. But she now says she won't vote for any more reconstruction money unless there is a better accounting for it, and unless it is given as a loan - not a grant.
Mr. Murtha, meanwhile, has spotlighted the lack of basic life-saving equipment such as Kevlar vests, for some U.S. soldiers, as well as the lack of planning for maintaining vital U.S. military equipment in Iraq.
“One third of the Bradleys [armored vehicles] are deadlined because of a lack of spare parts.... I mean, these are things you think about before you go. These Bradleys are traveling a thousand miles a month, and they normally travel a thousand miles a year. It costs $22,000 to refurbish these Bradleys, every single one of them. All of these costs were miscalculated,” he said.
Mr. Murtha also is outraged at some of the cost estimates given to justify the need for the $87 billion package, especially the idea that $150 million is needed for a witness-protection program in Iraq.
“That's something we need to see about,” he said. “And building two prisons - why do that? It makes no sense at all. Getting the electrical grid back is key, getting oil production back is key. Those would help create jobs, which in the end, will create the security we need.”
Kenneth Pollack, an Iraq expert who is the research director at the Brooking Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, believes the Bush administration won't be able to do much rebuilding in Iraq “in the absence of a plan.”
Having no clear plan “reinforces the sense among many Iraqis that they hope we're going to do the right thing, but they're not sure we will,” Mr. Pollack said at a recent seminar on Iraq. “And that ambivalence leaves them in a position where they're not quite as willing to help us and support the reconstruction effort as we're going to need in the future.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers have introduced legislation to ensure better planning for any U.S. military interventions abroad. The legislation, which is sponsored by Sens. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), Jack Reed (D., R.I.), and John Edwards, (D., N.C.), a presidential candidate, would create an Office of International Emergency Management, as well as a separate State Department center where reconstruction workers would be trained.