House votes for $13.1 billion to expand military spending

Social Security funds to support war effort

May 07, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A week after refusing to support NATO's air war in Yugoslavia, the House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to give President Clinton more than twice the $6 billion sum he had requested to pay for it.

Though critical of Clinton's handling of the NATO campaign, Republican leaders took advantage of a chance to allocate extra money for military needs unrelated to Kosovo.

All the money would come out of the Social Security trust fund and would not be subject to strict budget limits.

"The time is now to deter our enemies by bolstering our military," Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House Republican whip, exhorted his colleagues.

"We must send a clear message that while we may not support the president's ill-advised war, we do support our troops wholeheartedly."

The 311-105 vote in favor of a $13.1 billion spending proposal drew a substantial majority of Democrats as well as Republicans.

All were attracted by a package that, in addition to helping pay for the bombing campaign and aid to refugees, includes money for Pentagon recruiting and training, spare parts, base construction and a 4.4 percent military pay raise.

That raise would be matched this year by an equal pay raise for federal civilian workers.

Democrats also found appealing the promise that a long-delayed measure, to offer emergency aid for farmers and for the Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch, will be attached to the Kosovo bill later.

Despite earlier grumbling about the money added to the bill, House Democratic leaders worked to ensure support for it.

"We have to stand united behind our troops," said Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the No. 2 House Democrat. "In the end, we have to move this process forward."

Seven of the eight members of the Maryland delegation voted for the measure.

The eighth, Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County, did not vote. His office said Wynn was still suffering from a two-week bout of the flu.

So great is the hurry to enact the military spending measure that congressional leaders have decided to bypass the Senate and send it directly to a House-Senate conference committee that is considering the Hurricane Mitch bill.

If all goes according to plan, the two measures will be combined, negotiated into a final -- probably less costly -- bill, given a final vote in the House and Senate and sent to Clinton for certain approval.

Before last night's vote, Republican leaders helped defeat a drive by some anti-war members in their own party to bar any money in the bill from being spent for ground troops.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, predicted that the money would not come fast enough to support ground troops in Kosovo in case they are ordered in. But he voted for the prohibition anyway, he said, because "I will not support this war."

The proposal to ban money for ground troops failed, 301-117, but not before resurrecting an emotional and divisive debate from last week.

The House voted then to bar Clinton from deploying ground forces in Kosovo without Congress' approval.

Members also refused, on a tie vote, to support the NATO air campaign. Yet they also voted against an end to U.S. involvement in that campaign.

Republican leaders, widely criticized for allowing such a confused signal to be sent, and desperate to protect the military money from a presidential veto, scrambled yesterday to avoid a replay.

"Let me say this is too important for our servicemen and servicewomen to be subject to partisan politics," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

The measure easily prevailed. But some House members of both parties protested what they called an unnecessarily bloated measure that mocks congressional budget rules and violates Republican promises to leave the Social Security trust fund intact.

Most of the bill will be financed from this year's expected $111 billion surplus from the trust fund.

The money includes $453 million for military efforts against Iraq. All of it is in addition to the munitions, missiles and equipment requested by the president, plus nearly $600 million for aid to the front-line states of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

"This war has stretched our resources terribly thin," said Rep. C. W. Bill Young, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"We're in Kosovo deeper than most of us thought we were. Unless [Yugoslavian President Slobodan] Milosevic has a change of heart, we're going to be in deeper, and it's going to be longer and more expensive."

Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, contended that at least $3 billion of the money added by Republicans was included just to bypass spending limits that apply to the regular budget process.

Clinton's smaller request, Obey said, was enough to pay for 800 planes flying 24 hours a day through the end of September.

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