Barbara Mikulski

Rebuilding Iraq - Oct. 15, 2003

Barbara Mikulski
October 15, 2003— U.S. Senate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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I wanted to use part of my morning business to give some of my principles as we debate the supplemental appropriations on Iraq. One year ago, America was on the brink of war. Congress debated then whether America should go it alone to confront Saddam Hussein or get international support to bring the world with us.

This week Congress takes up a nearly similar debate. Do we go it alone or do we find a way to share the burden and the cost of the war? Who should pay for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq? According to the Bush administration, the answer is the American taxpayer - to the tune of $87 billion. As we consider this debate, we should have four principles to guide our thinking.

First, there must be international burden-sharing. If the stability of Iraq is in the world’s interest, then the world should help pay for the reconstruction. The administration must be more aggressive in the pursuit of reconstruction funds from other countries and other international institutions.

Second, wherever possible American aid should be loans, not giveaways. Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves. These oil fields are capable of pumping out millions of barrels a day, and that should translate into billions of dollars. Those profits should help with the reconstruction.

Third, we must always be clear that we must support our troops. These are ordinary men and women called to do extraordinary, dangerous and difficult things. They put their lives at risk to serve our country. Our troops need equipment, gear, and backup and their families need financial support. Military families whose loved ones are in Iraq need financial support to make ends meet and the health care that they should get.

Fourth, the Administration must lay out a plan to end the occupation of Iraq. There was a plan for the war. Now we need a plan for the peace. The American people deserve full disclosure, a real assessment of where we’re going, and how long we’ll be there. Iraq must not turn into a quagmire. We cannot pour in our funds and send more troops with no end in sight.

Last year when we debated the war, I said if it was important enough for the world, the world should go with us. I voted to go to the United Nations to have international legitimacy and international burden-sharing and to share the cost of rebuilding Iraq. During the debate I said ‘What’s going to happen to our troops?’ I asked it in classified situations and other briefings. I wanted to know if our troops were going to be greeted with a land mine or with a parade. Well, now we know the answer to that. Our troops need all the support they can get.

I believe we need more troops, but I don’t think that we need more American troops. They should come from other countries. I believe there is money that needs to be spent in Iraq, but not only our money. I think there needs to be international money. We had a coalition of the willing. Now we need a coalition of the wallet. Let them step up to the plate to share the financial responsibility to create stability and a democracy in Iraq.

I’m behind our troops, and we want to vote to make sure that they have the help and the assistance they need. We understand they don’t even have the proper body armor that they need. We also want to support their families here. They come back for two weeks for a breather, but their hearts are broken as the men and women go back to the war. We need to support those families financially, as well as in terms of health care.

When it comes to burden-sharing, we now know that the other countries aren’t stepping up. They’re tepid. They were timid about the war, and they’re tepid about the reconstruction. Only 61 countries have committed to helping. They’ve committed $1.5 billion to the Iraqi reconstruction, according to Ambassador Bremer’s testimony. That’s not enough.

But we were also assured by Secretary Rumsfeld that we could get the money for reconstruction from Iraqi oil. Well, let’s get it. And I support the kind of thinking that Senator Dorgan has presented, which is to replace the $20 billion in grants for Iraqi reconstruction with loans, which would also create a framework for other nations to participate in those loans.

On a bipartisan basis, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is working on an amendment to make $10 billion in American aid contingent on a $10 billion commitment from the World Bank. That’s the kind of thinking we need. We need to work on a bipartisan basis. America needs to know we’re trying to work on a bipartisan basis. I want to repeat: we need loans, not giveaways.

There are others who say Iraq is shackled with debt. That debt was created by an illegitimate government in Iraq. And who is the money owed to? Well, the money is owed to Russia, to Saudi Arabia, and to France. Why can’t they forgive the debt and make that their share? Just forgive the debt. Rather than giving more money, let France forgive the debt. Let Russia forgive the debt. Let Saudi Arabia forgive the debt. Let Iraq start with a clean slate and pay back America for what it is doing.

My constituents in Maryland are very patriotic, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to defend this nation. But they have families and children to educate, mothers and fathers who are grappling with the health care cost of being older, retirement plans, and homes to buy. It’s not fair to ask the American taxpayer to share the full burden of fighting this war. And while we’re worried about Russia’s debt, what about our debt? If we’re worried about Iraq being too burdened with debt, what about our debt? We need a debt of gratitude for what we’re doing around the world. I think the way it can be repaid is forgive the Iraqi debt. Let them start with a clean slate just like they’re starting with a clean government, and move on here.

When you look at the way they’re spending money on reconstruction, they want money to build schools. They want money to build tech centers. They want money for job training and job centers and water and sewer grants – all the kinds of things that we need in our own communities.

We know that the people in Iraq have suffered. They’ve suffered under Saddam Hussein. They’re now suffering under what looks like an internal, almost civil war going on there now among the different tribes. I know that the children need health care, that the communities need electricity and that they need to have an economy to get back on their feet. But I wish that some of this money was also being spent here. They’re going to build 25 tech centers with 20 laptop computers for computer training. They’re going to build seven communities with 3,500 units of affordable housing. And guess what? They’re going to build a primary school, a secondary school, a health clinic, a place of worship and a market in that community.

At the same time, Hope VI and other programs to revitalize American cities have been zeroed out. Tech centers to get our kids ready for the new economy and for the new century were really sharply reduced. Infrastructure that we desperately need to protect public health and the environment, like water and sewer grants, are spartan and skimpy in my own VA-HUD bill.

We’ve got to look at where we’re spending our money and we’ve got to look at where we’re creating debt. If we’re creating debt to improve our economy and get our jobs going, I think we know that a little borrowing today might create jobs tomorrow. But now we’re doing massive borrowing to rebuild Iraq while others tell us they can’t afford to send troops and they can’t afford to spend dollars. And I’m saying we’re beginning to not be able to afford this war in Iraq. So, I hope we can work on some solutions here to have Iraq emerge as a democracy, and bring our troops back home.

We’ve got to concentrate on how we can have our national honor abroad but restore our national treasury here. And I look forward to working on a bipartisan basis with my colleagues. We’ve got to really get down to business and get an exit strategy on how we’re getting out of Iraq and also how we’re getting out of debt.