Many vie for $40 billion in federal aid

Competition is keen for the $10.3 billion that isn't spoken for

War On Terrorism

The Nation

November 10, 2001|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Daily for more than a half-century, private planes took wing at Freeway Airport in Bowie. They flew through wars and oil embargoes, recessions and stock market crashes. A storm might briefly close the runways. But nothing ever grounded the airport's family-owned business until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The airport is one of a dozen or so in the country still closed for national security reasons. And the Rodenhauser brothers, who own it, have joined countless other indirect victims of the attacks in pleading for part of $40 billion in emergency aid being doled out by the federal government.

"I don't think anybody can put a number on the full extent of the damage" to the nation, said Stanley Rodenhauser. His small company has laid off 25 workers, who, in turn, are no longer patronizing other local businesses. Rodenhauser says his company has lost at least $500,000.

Requests pile up

Against the huge pile of emergency aid requests, the $40 billion does not look as though it will stretch very far.

President Bush has spent $9.7 billion of the $40 billion, and he has sent a proposal to Congress with specific amounts set aside for a variety of federal agencies. That total is $20 billion, which leaves $10.3 billion.

New York's congressional delegation, which secured a pledge from Bush that half of the $40 billion would help that state recover from the attack on the World Trade Center, says New York is entitled to an additional $11 billion because only $9 billion has arrived.

And the U.S. Postal Service, through which anthrax attacks were delivered after the $40 billion in relief had been approved, says it needs $5 billion. That money would help the Postal Service cope with new security expenses and compensate for $2 billion in lost business.

Meanwhile, Bush has threatened to veto any funding proposal Congress approves this year that exceeds the $40 billion. If he decides that more money is needed early next year, Bush says, he will submit an additional budget request known as a supplemental.

"We are looking at all opportunities to spend money in our government, and we're going to make sure that any supplemental that may or may not occur next year fits into an overall national strategy," the president said, referring to the Postal Service and other needs.

"We believe we've got ample money to make it through the holiday season and the beginning of next year."

Showdown likely

Even so, Congress and the president appear headed for a holiday season showdown over spending needs.

The Republican-led House has passed a $100 billion package of tax cuts, mostly to large corporations, that Bush supports. The Democratic-led Senate is debating a nearly $90 billion rival bill, made up mostly of worker benefits and public works spending.

A final compromise is expected to be a mix of tax cuts for businesses and low-income people, and aid for laid-off workers.

Additional spending to deal with the aftermath of the attacks and to shore up domestic defenses also seems certain to be added. But members of Congress would have to find a budgetary way around Bush's veto threat, which technically applies only until the end of the year.

"It's kind of a silly game; I don't know why he got into it," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, said of Bush's veto threat.

"Fortunately, we are the richest nation on earth. We can afford to pay for these things in the short run. What we need to be careful about is not incurring long-term expenses like tax cuts for the 14 biggest corporations."

A first skirmish over Bush's spending ceiling is expected Tuesday, when the House Appropriations Committee is to vote on the president's plan for spending the $20 billion earmarked for federal agencies.

Of the total, $6.3 billion goes for New York's recovery needs and $7 billion is directed toward the war on terrorism. The rest is for other disaster response and domestic security needs.

A sampling from the list of designated purposes is security at the Supreme Court and the Smithsonian Institution, overtime pay for the FBI and the U.S. Park Police, a cash infusion for the Public Health Service emergency fund and the construction of research facilities for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Requests whittled down

The list was whittled down from agency requests that exceeded $100 billion, Hoyer said.

The president is not likely to be challenged on his choices, but Democratic lawmakers and New York Republicans say they will try to add to the list.

As for Freeway Airport and five others in Maryland closed since the morning of Sept. 11, there is still a chance for them to gain a share of the $10.3 billion that has not officially been spoken for and that New York has its eye on.

Hoyer, Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat, and Maryland Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski all wrote this week to Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the White House budget director, asking for his help in the matter.

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