WASHINGTON - A Congress increasingly skeptical about President Bush's strategy in Iraq is set to scrutinize his request for $87 billion in emergency money to fund the U.S. effort there and in Afghanistan, but it is expected to approve the funds overwhelmingly.
The day after the president unveiled his request in a prime-time address, lawmakers in both parties cheered his stated commitment to work with the international community to secure and rebuild Iraq.
Democrats are questioning whether Bush has a full-fledged plan for reversing what they characterize as a failed policy.
And the cost - on top of $79 billion that Congress provided earlier this year and a projected 2004 deficit approaching $500 billion - is alarming Republicans and Democrats alike.
Still, with U.S. troops in the field, Congress is all but certain to approve the funding.
The top Republicans in charge of spending measures, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, said yesterday that they would move Bush's request quickly.
But Republicans and Democrats signaled that the administration might face a tougher sell than it has with any defense-related funding request since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"I think they'll have to be more specific this time," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. "Members are a little more skeptical."
Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, said Congress has been "a little too docile" so far in giving Bush the benefit of the doubt regarding strategy and funding requests.
"We need to be very clear now as to what our obligations are going to be, so we can articulate it to our constituents," he said.
"This will be the first military request on Capitol Hill since 9/11 that will be met with more scrutiny and in some respects more hesitation," said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, a conservative Republican. "I have 500 billion reasons [the size of the deficit] why it will be met with more skepticism."
Most Republicans rallied behind Bush yesterday, saluting him for reaching out to the international community and for preparing the American public for what could be a long and costly mission.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Bush had shown "courageous leadership." Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services panel, said Bush was "right on target," calling the U.S. mission in Iraq "the most important thing to happen to the Middle East in 50 years."
Democrats said the speech, and the huge funding request, were long-overdue admissions by Bush that he failed to plan adequately for a chaotic and dangerous post-war period, and misled Americans about the depth of the challenges U.S. forces would find in Iraq.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been a leading critic of Bush's Iraq policy, said he will try to condition any new funding on a full report about the total cost of military and reconstruction activities in Iraq, a schedule for rebuilding the nation, and a long-term exit strategy for U.S. troops.
Bush is asking for $66 billion in military spending - $51 billion of it for Iraq - and $21 billion for reconstruction, which includes $800 million for Afghanistan.
Democrats are questioning the reconstruction funding in light of what they regard as Bush's neglect of domestic priorities such as education and health care and his promotion of permanent tax cuts.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said Bush should tell the public "how this spending will affect our ability to address the unmet needs in our own country."
Democrats who have long argued that Bush should seek a more international presence in Iraq admonished him yesterday to follow through on the commitment he made Sunday.
Bush request likely to pass, with scrutiny
Democrats, Republicans alarmed by plan to spend $87 billion in war zones; 'We need to be very clear now'; President garners praise for a more international approach to rebuild Iraq
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