GOP Trying to Snuff Out Iraqi Loans Idea

WASHINGTON - The White House predicted Wednesday that a final $87 billion measure for Iraq and Afghanistan won't make the Iraqi rebuilding aid a loan, despite signs of continued support for the idea in Congress.

"I don't think that that provision will be in the final language," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters as President Bush flew from Singapore to Bali on one of the last legs of his Asian trip. "It's very clear that it sends the wrong message."

McClellan said lending money to Iraq would make it harder for the United States to attract foreign contributions at an international donors' conference in Spain this week, and add billions to Iraq's already huge pile of foreign debt.

The statement came as nine House Democrats who have backed Bush's request for funds - including the No. 2 House Democratic leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland - pressed the administration to release a detailed plan that would state U.S. goals in Iraq and the estimated timetable and price tag.

"Neither you nor any senior administration official has informed the American people of the future costs of the war in Iraq or articulated how long it will take before you can actually - and accurately - tell the American people: Mission accomplished," the Democrats wrote in a letter to Bush.

The nine Democrats ranged from liberal Howard Berman of California to moderate Charles Stenholm of Texas.

On Tuesday, the House voted 277-139 to show support for loans to Iraq in a symbolic though ambiguous vote. The White House also issued its first threat to veto the overall aid package if the Iraqi reconstruction money were to be structured as a loan.

The House vote was on a nonbinding resolution voicing support for Iraqi loans and better medical benefits for U.S. veterans and military reservists. That made it difficult to determine exactly what the vote meant.

Voting for Tuesday's House resolution were 84 Republicans, 192 Democrats and one independent. Two Democrats and 137 Republicans voted no.

Democrats called the vote a rebuke of President Bush's Iraq policies, especially his insistence that U.S. aid for reconstructing Iraq must be grants, not loans. Republicans said the roll call simply showed how nervous some lawmakers were about opposing better health care coverage for reservists and veterans.

House and Senate negotiators are trying to produce a compromise $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan by next week, and GOP leaders in both chambers say they intend to drop Senate-passed language making half the rebuilding aid a loan.

The House bill included $18.6 billion to help Iraq rebuild its water supplies, health clinics and Army, and made the money a grant that country would not have to repay.

The Senate included $18.4 billion but would require Iraq to repay about half, unless Saudi Arabia, Russia and other countries forgave 90 percent of the debt run up during Saddam Hussein's regime.