WASHINGTON -- In a victory for the White House, congressional negotiators agreed yesterday not to include loans in an $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan.
House-Senate conferees were close to finalizing details of a package that will resemble President Bush's proposal to pay for military operations and rebuilding costs in the two countries next year.
But both Republicans and Democrats expressed frustration over what they described as the White House's disdainful treatment of Congress on the issue of Iraq.
"You bump up to a degree of arrogance over and over," said Representative Frank Wolf, Republicans of Virginia. Wolf, though, joined other Republicans in defeating a Democratic proposal that would have required Senate confirmation for Bush's civilian administrator in Iraq, the position now held by L. Paul Bremer III.
Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, rejected Democratic claims that this would make the administration more accountable on Iraq.
"I'm not at all sure that the American people equate accountability with confirmation by the United States Senate," he said.
The loan issue was the most divisive item as the House and Senate tried to resolve differences between their versions of the bill. A Senate amendment, passed with bipartisan support, would have required Iraq to pay back about half of the $18.4 billion for reconstruction and Iraqi security forces.
Loan supporters said that US taxpayers are already spending plenty on Iraq and that the country's vast oil reserves should enable it to pay back some of the money eventually. Under the Senate bill, Iraq would not have had to repay the loan if other countries forgave 90 percent of the debt Iraq ran up under Saddam Hussein's toppled regime.
Bush threatened to veto the bill if the loan provisions were included. He and congressional Republican leaders argued that Iraq was already too deeply in debt to borrow more money and that there was no Iraqi government with the authority to take on new loans. Senate conferees voted 16-13 against insisting on their loan amendment with their House counterparts. All Republicans voted no. Most were absent and their no votes were cast by proxy, including that of Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who had supported the loans. One Democrat, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, also voted no.