Franken: Draw back more U.S. Iraqi funds

Al Franken
DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken is calling for the U.S. to rescind all its spending on reconstruction in Iraq.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken is one-upping a call from his opponent, Republican Norm Coleman, for the United States to rescind funds it's sending to Iraq for reconstruction of that country.

Last week, Coleman said the U.S. should take back $1.1 billion committed to Iraqi reconstruction after a government report found that Iraq has a projected budget surplus of $50 billion, thanks mostly to oil and gas revenues.

Franken is calling for an end to U.S. spending on Iraqi reconstruction altogether. Franken says the U.S. should rescind more than $7 billion appropriated for Iraqi reconstruction that is not yet obligated to specific projects.

Franken says the money should instead go to pay for infrastructure improvements in the U.S. He says it's time for the Iraqi government to pay for its own reconstruction using its $50 billion budget surplus.

"There's a line between being responsible for rebuilding a country that you have helped destroy, and being a chump -- and I think we've crossed the line."

"There's a line between being responsible for rebuilding a country that you have helped destroy, and being a chump -- and I think we've crossed the line," Franken said.

The Coleman campaign didn't immediately respond to Franken's specific proposal.

On Friday, Coleman had said he'd introduce a bill to pull back $1.1 billion in U.S. money for Iraqi reconstruction. He said the U.S. "should not be an ATM for the Iraqi government."

But Franken's call for taking back more money set off a new round of tussling between the campaigns over Iraq, which has been a central issue in the race.

Franken returned to one of his most persistent criticisms of Coleman - that as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations from 2003 to the end of 2006, Coleman failed to provide any oversight of U.S. funds being diverted to Iraqi reconstruction.

"Senator Coleman, at any time, could have done these hearings on reconstruction and he did none," Franken said, arguing that to have done so might have run Coleman afoul of the Bush White House and Republican congressional leaders.

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said Franken was being deceptive in how he characterized the work of the subcommittee on investigations. Sheehan said its small staff and budget would make it the wrong entity to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the Iraqi reconstruction.

Sheehan pointed out that the panel's ranking Democratic member could have instigated an investigation of the reconstruction but did not. That senator, Carl Levin of Michigan, also hasn't initiated such an investigation since becoming chairman, Sheehan said.

Coleman has supported investigations of U.S. spending and policies in Iraq by other entities including the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction, a non-partisan group established by Congress to conduct oversight in Iraq.

"It's a matter of dollars and resources and not duplicating effort," Sheehan said.