Congress asked to fund war with Iraq

By Justin Reedy

When President Bush came to Congress this week and asked for $75 billion to fund the war with Iraq and other anti-terrorism efforts, the first thing U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, wondered was whether it was enough.

Bush asked members of the House and Senate this week to approve the supplemental funding package, which would pay for prosecuting the war in the Persian Gulf, provide foreign aid funding for some of our allies and boost domestic security efforts.

Of the nearly $75 billion requested by the president, $62.6 billion would go directly to military and logistical funding for the Iraqi conflict and other military operations, while $7.8 billion is earmarked for foreign aid to Israel, Turkey and other allies. Another $4.2 billion from the proposed appropriation would fund homeland security initiatives here in the United States, with $2 billion of that set aside to help state and local law enforcers prepare for terrorist incidents.

Bush administration officials continued to lobby Congress for the supplemental funding on Thursday in committee hearings. The president's plan, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, "supports the administration's objectives to support our troops abroad and increase our safety at home."

Though Scott, the congressional representative for Clayton and Henry counties and other parts of metro Atlanta, supports the president and the ongoing war effort, he hopes to see a larger portion of the appropriation go to the military and to homeland security.

"My first question was, ?Is this enough?'" said Scott this week, having just received a briefing on the war from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with other members of Congress. "It may not be enough. I think most of this initial supplemental (funding) needs to go to the troops."

Cutting the foreign aid to Israel, Turkey and other countries could be one way to address that issue, Scott said.

"I think we need to fulfill our obligations to our allies, but I think our military and our veterans come first in this," he said.

Though the war in Iraq has the support of most Americans, some local residents are concerned about the cost of the conflict.

"I think the timing on this war is wrong, with the economy doing so poorly," said Jonesboro resident Buford Gaiter. "The way (Bush) is going to get the money (for the war) is from taxes, so I'm opposed to that."

But Fayetteville resident Mary Bannister is more concerned about the cost in human lives of this war. Though she doesn't support the war, Bannister said, she does support the troops but hopes the war will come to an end soon.

"I'm not upset about the financial costs n I'm upset about the loss of life," Bannister said. "A friend of mine calculated that if you divide the $75 billion between everyone in America it would cost about $250 per person per month. I would send in my $250 if they stop the war."

One concern among congressional Democrats about Bush's request is that it doesn't include enough funding for homeland security efforts at the state and local levels.

"I'm concerned that they are not getting the resources they need and were promised by the administration," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the committee. "Experience is showing that the money is not getting to the local responders."

Like some of his colleagues, Scott would support increasing the amount of funding going towards domestic security efforts, he said, since state and local governments are struggling with budget crises leaving them unable to pay for new training and equipment addressing terrorism.

"We are woefully short in terms of homeland security funding," Scott said. "We're going to try to get money down to our first responders and our counties and cities. (Local officials) are right when they say we've given them an un-funded mandate."

Airlines are also in a similar position, Scott said, with improvements to security in airports and on planes costing billions and the industry struggling financially.

"There's not a penny in (the president's funding package) for airline security," Scott said. "What are we doing for homeland security if there's nothing in there for airline security?"

The Associated Press contributed to this article.