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Democrats Focus On Halliburton

Senate Leaders Promise Scrutiny of War ‘Profiteering’

Congressional Democrats this week launched a renewed attack on the White House’s connections to the Halliburton Co., warning that the energy concern once headed by Vice President Cheney must not benefit from “excessive profiteering” from the rebuilding of Iraq.

Democrats are trying to distinguish between the politically necessary funding of U.S. troops and ongoing military efforts in Iraq, pegged at more than $65 billion, and the proposal for more than $20 billion in reconstruction efforts, a price tag that even some key Republicans have questioned.

“We need a plan to ensure that Halliburton and other corporations like Halliburton are not in a position to profiteer on whatever money goes into Iraq,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Tuesday, promising relatively smooth sailing for the military portion of funds in the more than $87 billion supplemental appropriation request.

But Daschle and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, spelled out their intention to put up a fight over the reconstruction funds, particularly if any of that money is slated to end up in contracts for Halliburton, the company for which Cheney served as CEO before becoming President Bush’s vice presidential nominee three years ago. Democrats have long questioned Halliburton’s ties to the administration, using the firm to attack Cheney’s personal wealth, the adminstration’s approach to energy legislation and the Pentagon’s outsourcing program for many of its most basic functions in overseas work.

Democratic aides circulated reports showing that Cheney’s former firm had drawn more than $1.7 billion in contracts from the war in Iraq and was set to rake in hundreds of millions more dollars in no-bid contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“I have seen questions in the press with respect to procedures in that regard, and I think we have to ask some questions,” said Byrd, who used an Armed Services hearing Tuesday to grill Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz about Halliburton’s role in the post-war reconstruction.

“These are areas which we should have questions about, and we ought to look into them,” Byrd said.

Responding to Byrd’s questioning, Wolfowitz said the Pentagon wanted to get critical services in Iraq, particularly the electricity infrastructure, running as quickly as possible and implied that the need for secrecy in pre-war planning led to the awarding of some of the no-bid contracts. However, with the traditional phase of the war over, Wolfowitz indicated that the administration should generally go with a competitive process for reconstruction contracts.

“I am quite certain the basic principle’s got to be competitive bidding,” he said.

In addition to wanting a more detailed plan for securing the peace and getting more international support for the effort, Daschle said the administration needed to “guarantee that Halliburton, and other corporations like that, aren’t just going to take these funds and with excessive profiteering run off like bandits without any competitive opportunities, without any insurance that there’s transparency.”

On the House side, Appropriations Committee staffers and Republican leadership aides received Office of Management and Budget briefings on Monday, but no timetable will be set for moving the supplemental until it receives complete details on the package from the Bush administration.

House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) discussed the measure with OMB Director Josh Bolton on Sunday, but Young has not yet decided when his committee will take up the measure. There is also no consensus yet on whether the supplemental will move as a freestanding measure or as part of another spending bill.

As with the last Iraq supplemental, Young and House leaders want to keep the bill relatively free of earmarks.

“We’d like to move it quick and clean,” said Young spokesman John Scofield, predicting that the supplemental would be a less likely target for earmarks because there are so many other fiscal 2004 spending bills still moving through the system.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) echoed comments from Daschle and Byrd, saying Democrats will support additional funding for the Iraqi conflict, but warned that some Democrats may suffer from sticker shock.

“What a huge miscalculation the administration made in terms of the cost of winning the peace,” Hoyer said of the $87 billion. “Not only in terms of money but in terms of the risk to our forces and personnel.”

House Republican leaders plan to give particular scrutiny to the request for an estimated $21 billion in nonmilitary reconstruction funding.

“We’ll be looking carefully to make sure it’s justified,” said a Republican leadership aide.

That portion of the supplemental could also be the spark for a small-scale panel turf war.

Since early August, House International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has been circulating drafts of the Iraqi Liberation Act of 2003, an authorizing bill for the next year of reconstruction activities.

While his predecessor as International Relations chairman, ex-Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.), rarely bothered with authorization bills, Hyde has tried to reassert the panel’s clout rather than simply allow the Appropriations Committee to set policy.

A scheduled full committee markup of the measure has been postponed, as Hyde awaits details from the administration. It is also unclear whether the House GOP leadership would ever bring an authorizing bill to the floor, though Hyde could try to attach the measure’s language to an appropriations bill if he doesn’t get his own up-or-down vote.

In the Senate, Byrd and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) are planning to push for the reconstruction portion of the bill, including $800 million for Afghanistan, to be peeled off of the supplemental and put into a bill overseen by the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee.

And, seizing on the continuing economic stagnation domestically, Democrats are trying to use the reconstruction of Iraq to hit the Bush administration on what they consider underfunded priorities at home — a risky strategy that brought an immediate rebuke from Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

“They can’t beat us over the head for increasing the deficit and demand more money at the same time,” Stevens said.

But Democrats feel they can use the issue to gain leverage on two fronts, whacking Bush and Cheney for their connections to a big energy company and accusing the administration of essentially giving away money to its friends as opposed to needed domestic priorities.

“If we’re going to say we have to provide these other funds with an urgency for Iraq, there has to be an equal urgency for the kinds of things that we care about here at home,” Daschle said.

Daschle, however, declined to spell out the Democrats’ specific strategy, declining to say whether he would push to have the reconstruction funds peeled off and whether there would be specific amendments for domestic spending to the supplemental.

“It’s too early to know just what legislative strategy we may employ,” he said.

Erin P. Billings and Mark Preston contributed to this report.

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