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Sen Byrd Speech -- Follow the Money / 10-15-03

Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

October 15, 2003

Follow the Money in Iraq

On Wednesday, Senator Byrd offered an amendment to the President's $87 billion package for the military and for reconstruction in Iraq; the Byrd amendment would require the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to provide critical information Congress needs to conduct oversight of reconstruction activities in Iraq, and to hold the Administration accountable for meeting its own goals and timetables. The amendment would also require the General Accounting Office (GAO) to audit the CPA's activities and report its findings to Congress. Senator Byrd made remarks below in support of his amendment, which the Senate adopted 97-0.

One year ago this week, the President signed the congressional resolution authorizing him to go war against Iraq [October 16, 2002]. That signing was a historic moment for the United States. For the first time in our history, the President asked Congress for authority to launch an invasion against a sovereign nation that did not constitute a clear and imminent threat to the safety of the American people. And for the first time in our history, the President demanded that Congress give him unconditional power to initiate war whenever he wanted, limited by nothing but his own judgment. The President wanted war on his own terms, and Congress granted him everything he asked for.

For the next five months, the President and his top advisors turned a deaf ear to growing concerns about the Administration's judgment. When intelligence analysts warned that the White House was acting on questionable conclusions, those analysts were ignored. When Members of Congress dared to ask questions about the President's war plans, they were branded as unpatriotic. When our oldest allies disagreed with the argument that immediate war was the only answer, they were dismissed and called irrelevant. Top Administration officials who publicly contradicted the President's rosy predictions were fired, and the American public was kept in the dark about what Iraq would look like after the war.

Confident that the reconstruction of Iraq was a job that could be handled without involving Congress or the United Nations, President Bush delegated the task to retired General Jay Garner, who quietly went to work with support from the Pentagon. The American people were not told much about General Garner or what he was doing in Iraq, and most Members of Congress didn't know anything more about him than what they read in the papers. So when General Garner was fired and replaced with Ambassador Paul Bremer without explanation or fanfare, Congress had no real information to judge what the shake-up would mean for the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In the days after President Bush made his flamboyant landing on the aircraft carrier to announce to the world that the United States had accomplished its mission in Iraq, most of the country was too distracted celebrating the military triumph to think much about the President's appointment of Paul Bremer to serve as a Presidential Envoy in Iraq. With the President declaring victory and the Administration continuing to assure the public that we would be welcomed as liberators, and that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for reconstruction, the Administration hoped that no one would bother to notice the management changes it was making in Iraq.

The Administration moved quickly to set up a reconstruction team on the ground in Iraq that would answer only to the President and the Secretary of Defense. In May, the President issued a classified National Security Directive creating the Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA]. That document remains classified, and the Administration has provided very little public information about the powers and authorities of the CPA. All we really know from the White House is that Ambassador Bremer, as Administrator of the CPA, reports to the President through the Secretary of Defense. But after the recent announcement that National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice will be coordinating reconstruction policy from within the White House, who knows what the chain of command looks like today?

Getting a clear picture of how the CPA operates has proven difficult, but it is clear that Ambassador Bremer wields an extraordinary amount of power and independence in Iraq. On May 16, the CPA issued its first regulation in Iraq, in which it spelled out its authority in no uncertain terms. Section 1 of that regulation stated:

"The CPA is vested with all executive, legislative, and judicial authority necessary to achieve its objectives, to be exercised under relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1483 (2003), and the laws and usages of war. This authority shall be exercised by the CPA Administrator."

That is a powerful statement, especially for an agency that has never been authorized by Congress and an Administrator who was not confirmed by the Senate for his position. The CPA under Paul Bremer has the power to run the Iraqi government ministries, to appoint Iraqi officials and award lucrative private contracts for reconstruction. The CPA also oversees local police and even sets public curfews in Bagdad.

Now the CPA is looking to further consolidate its powers with an unprecedented request to spend over $20 billion of the American taxpayers' money, with little oversight by the Congress. Until now, the CPA has financed its various activities from a number of different sources, including billions of dollars in seized Iraqi assets. The CPA was not accountable to Congress for much of this spending, and it made very little effort to keep Congress and the public informed about the Administration's reconstruction plans. The White House let Paul Bremer maintain a low profile for months in Iraq before the President finally spoke to the American people about what was happening on the ground in Iraq.

But now the President has admitted that rebuilding will be a tougher job than he promised, and it will come with a bigger price tag. That means that Paul Bremer needs more money. So the Administration was forced to loosen its grip of secrecy just long enough to send Ambassador Bremer to testify before Congress about the need for additional funding. But don't be fooled— the public relations campaign with Congress will last only as long as it takes to get this massive bill pushed through both Houses in one piece.

In typical fashion, the Administration has been willing to say whatever Congress wanted to hear in order to get its way. We heard a lot of talk about plans and accountability, but the information given to Congress was long on rhetoric, and short on substance. After all the detailed spending requests and so-called plans from the CPA, what we are left with today is a bill before the Senate that gives Paul Bremmer a blank check to spend $20 billion dollars however they want. Once this bill leaves Congress, the Administration can throw its plans out the window and restore tight controls over information to prevent any meaningful oversight or scrutiny of its activities.

Congress cannot simply trust the CPA to voluntarily cooperate with oversight of reconstruction spending. This Administration has a long track record of stonewalling Congress, and so far Iraq has been no exception. The CPA took over the reins of Iraq's government five months ago, yet Congress still has very little useful information to evaluate its progress in Iraq thus far, let alone the merits of future spending needs. If Congress has any hope of holding the Administration accountable for the reconstruction plans it is proposing today, Congress needs a mechanism to ensure accountability from the CPA.

Ambassador Bremer testified before Congress that the activities of the CPA will be fully transparent and accountable, but some of his own statements suggested that he was reluctant to cooperate with committee oversight. In particular, I was troubled by comments he made about congressional access to the CPA's financial records. When he testified before the Appropriations Committee, Ambassador Bremer told me that the CPA had detailed records of all its receipts and outlays that could be audited by Congress [Monday, Sept. 22]. However, when he appeared before the Armed Services Committee only three days later, he told me that the Office of Management and Budget was responsible for maintaining those records, and that Congress would have to go to the White House for access to the CPA's records. [Thursday, Sept. 25]

Throughout my years in Congress, I have seen the White House occupied by Presidents of both parties, and I know from experience to be skeptical when I'm referred to the White House for oversight information. There is no reason why any arm of the executive branch charged with making such significant spending decisions should not be working directly with Congress. When we're talking about handing over another $20 billion to the CPA, there is a real need for Congress to confirm that the CPA has its finances in order and that it is managing the taxpayer's money responsibly.

My amendment will require the Coalition Provisional Authority to report to Congress on its receipts and expenditures as the reconstruction efforts move forward in Iraq. These reports will be submitted on a quarterly basis, beginning on January 1, 2004. Building on the reporting requirements already in the bill, my amendment calls for an accounting of both appropriated funds and other sources, such as oil revenues and foreign contributions. This is information that the CPA is already tracking, so it shouldn't be too much of a burden to share the information with Congress, especially given the CPA's extraordinary flexibility in spending taxpayer dollars. Ambassador Bremer assured me personally during committee hearings that he would comply with any reporting requirements Congress chose to include in this legislation, and I certainly take him at his word.

My amendment also directs the Comptroller General to audit the spending records of the CPA, so the General Accounting Office can provide Congress with a clear understanding of how reconstruction activities are being managed in Iraq. In its report to Congress, GAO must outline the authorities and organization of the CPA, the CPA's relationship to the White House and other executive agencies, and the CPA's use of private contractors to perform critical reconstruction services in Iraq.

The most important power vested in Congress by the Constitution is the power of the purse, and this power carries with it the duty to ensure that the people's money is being spent wisely. Congress must be able to follow that money wherever it goes, but right now, our money may soon disappear into a whirling sandstorm of White House rhetoric and wartime profiteering.

Without this amendment, following the money will only get harder as the President continues to reorganize the chain of command in Iraq and avoids straight answers to tough questions about the success of our reconstruction efforts.

If the Constitutional power of the purse means anything at all, it must at least require that the people's elected representatives in Congress have a right to know how the government is spending the nation's treasure. I urge the Senate to protect its own power and live up to its oversight responsibilities, and I urge Senators to support this amendment.

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