Congress OKs $79 billion for war expenses

Funds to support military, rebuilding of Iraq and homeland security efforts

War In Iraq

April 13, 2003|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - After a showdown over whether to include lawmakers' pet projects, Congress approved a $79 billion emergency wartime spending measure yesterday to pay for military action in Iraq, postwar rebuilding and fighting terrorism at home.

The unanimous votes - Congress' last action before adjourning for a two-week recess - cleared the supplemental spending measure for President Bush's signature. He is expected to sign it soon.

"I am pleased that Congress moved quickly and with strong bipartisan support to pass my request for our military and to bolster our homeland defenses during Operation Iraqi Freedom," Bush said. "This legislation includes the resources necessary to win the war and help secure enduring freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people."

The legislation gives Bush much of what he requested almost three weeks ago: a $62.4 billion infusion for the Pentagon; $7.5 billion for aid to U.S. allies, including nearly $2.5 billion for rebuilding Iraq; and $3.9 billion for homeland security.

But lawmakers put their stamp on the measure. They slashed by more than 25 percent the amount of funding the Pentagon could control without consulting Congress; included $2.9 billion in aid for the airline industry, which Bush did not request; and attached several parochial projects.

The wartime supplemental spending measure arrived on Capitol Hill late last month with substantial momentum behind it. Lawmakers generally are loath to question such funding requests during wartime, and with hostilities just beginning to heat up in Iraq, Bush warned Congress against doing anything that would slow the measure's enactment or tie the hands of his administration.

Still, lawmakers in both parties bristled at the wide latitude Bush requested, particularly for the Pentagon. He proposed creating a $59.9 billion pot of defense money - which appropriators quickly dubbed a "slush fund" - that the Pentagon could spend freely.

Under the measure cleared yesterday, that flexible fund would contain $15.7 billion, and administration officials would have to give Congress five days' notice before tapping it. The final agreement also slashed to $150 million a $1.5 billion counterterrorism fund Bush had requested for Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, allocating the rest of the money to specific programs.

Congressional leaders said the measure, which will add to a federal deficit projected to top $300 billion this year, was a small price to pay to support U.S. efforts in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

"Our nation is safer, the brotherhood of freedom is larger, and the world has seen that with clear goals and moral purpose, free men can beat back the tide of terror," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican. "And at $79 billion, I'd say it was a bargain."

Veteran appropriators predicted that the bill was just the beginning of a far more costly endeavor for the United States.

"We're going to have some real struggles in the reconstruction," said Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, senior Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "In my estimation, this is only the first installment of the amount of money they're going to want."

Lawmakers agreed to allow the Pentagon to spend some of the $2.5 billion allocated for rebuilding Iraq. Some had initially insisted that the State Department, which, they said, has experience in such efforts, control the money.

The measure provides substantial increases to Bush's $74.7 billion request. It includes $2.2 billion for grants to first responders, $230 million more than the administration wanted. The airline aid package, which White House officials have called "excessive," includes an extension of unemployment benefits for airline workers - something Bush opposed.

But more than any one dispute on money or flexibility, it was an intramural spat over so-called "pork" projects that hamstrung final negotiations and forced the House to convene in a rare Saturday session to clear the wartime spending measure.

After a struggle with House leaders, who balked at accepting add-ons for senators, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, agreed to drop many of them. Among those, a House aide said, were $3.3 million for the repair of a dam in New England and $5 million for a municipal communications system in Kentucky.

The final measure retained $110 million for an animal disease laboratory in Ames, Iowa, a provision that would allow wild salmon to be labeled as "organic," and about $25 million for a shipbuilding loan guarantee program that Bush has been trying to kill.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said he was disappointed that the projects were included but added, "In the end, we had a job to do to help our troops, and we did that job well."

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