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Bush signs record $87 billion plan for postwar Iraq

New money is on top of $79 billion already approved

President Bush is applauded by Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a signing ceremony for the Iraq and Afghanistan aid package Thursday.
President Bush is applauded by Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a signing ceremony for the Iraq and Afghanistan aid package Thursday.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Despite initial assurances about keeping costs down, President Bush signed a law Thursday that will provide $87.5 billion to try to turn around the Iraq occupation after months of bloodshed.

The emergency spending package, the biggest in history, is be more than double the amount the government spends on homeland security, more than 10 times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, and enough to provide all U.S. unemployment benefits for nearly two years.

Despite polls showing most Americans opposed the White House's $87 billion request, Bush insisted, "The American people accept these responsibilities now, in our time, so that we will not face far greater dangers in the future."

"With this act of Congress, no enemy or friend can doubt that America has the resources and the will to see this war through to victory," he said.

The new money comes on top of the $79 billion already approved, and despite initial administration predictions that Iraq would be "an affordable endeavor" and "can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon" using oil revenues, which have yet to materialize.

The new spending is expected to push an already record budget deficit higher than $525 billion for the fiscal year that began October 1, or about 4.7 percent of gross domestic product, a level that worries some White House economists.

In a White House signing ceremony, Bush warned that the occupation of Iraq would be "a massive and difficult undertaking," and called the $87.5 billion package the "greatest commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan," which helped rebuild Europe after World War Two.

Critics say the biggest benefactors would be major construction companies and defense contractors, some of which have close ties to Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney.

Aides said Bush had no plans for sending Congress another emergency request to pay for reconstruction, but would instead go through the normal budget process.

Despite a poll showing 60 percent of Americans opposed it, Congress gave Bush almost everything he sought to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through next year's presidential election.

Bush's signature on the bill brought an end to weeks of bitter debate and a near rebellion among some fellow Republicans who believed Iraq should repay part of the aid with its oil revenues.

Threat of veto

The White House had threatened to veto the entire package if it required any repayment, and Bush personally lobbied defiant members of his own party until they agreed to provide all of the nearly $20 billion reconstruction money as a no-strings grant.

While the final bill tracked Bush's request, lawmakers boosted aid to Afghanistan to $1.2 billion from Bush's $800 million, expanded health benefits for National Guard and Reserves, included $245 million for peacekeeping in Liberia, and an extra $500 million in U.S. disaster relief after deadly wildfires in Southern California.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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