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Bush, House plan fight over war funding bill

The Senate passes the $109-billion bill, but that includes a lot of money others don't plan to spend.

Published May 5, 2006

WASHINGTON - Money for things like farm relief and border and port security is usually an election-year winner. But you would never know it from the reaction to a huge Senate bill to pay for the Iraq war and hurricane relief.

"Dead on arrival," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., of the bill, which passed the Senate on Thursday and immediately ran into opposition from the White House and some House Republicans, who are determined to shear it of $14-billion in election-year add-ons.

A veto threat hangs over the measure as Republicans are anxious to avoid criticism from conservatives of being too free and easy with taxpayer dollars.

The $109-billion bill has grown to about $14-billion more than President Bush says he is willing to accept, and difficult House-Senate talks loom over how to cut it to meet his request.

House leaders promise to take a hard line in upcoming talks with the Senate.

"The House will not take up an emergency supplemental spending bill for Katrina and the war in Iraq that spends one dollar more than what the president asks for," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Period."

The new funds would bring total spending on war-related costs since the September 2001 attacks to about $430-billion, according to calculations by the Congressional Research Service.

Appropriations for last year's hurricanes would now total about $96-billion.

The Senate measure passed by a 78-20 vote. Both Florida senators, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson, voted in favor of the bill.

The bill contains $65.7-billion for war operations and $28.9-billion for hurricane relief, including grants to states to build and repair housing, and $4-billion for levees and flood control projects in Louisiana.

The bill attracted far more "no" votes than is typical for a measure benefiting U.S. troops overseas. But some Republicans - including Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. - said the measure's cost was too high and that too many items unrelated to the war or hurricane relief had been tacked on.

Bush's veto threat puts at risk a host of items not requested by the president, such as $4-billion in farm disaster aid, $1-billion in state grants and $1.1-billion in aid to the Gulf Coast seafood industry.

"Unfortunately, there are some here in Washington trying to load that bill up with unnecessary spending," Bush said. "This bill is for emergency spending, and it should be limited to emergency measures."

The tough talk came as the House overwhelmingly passed a bill aimed at boosting security at U.S. ports; one of the Senate's add-ons would boost port security funding by $648-million. Another would provide $1.9-billion to secure U.S. borders and waters.

The upcoming House-Senate talks are certain to reduce the tally for hurricane aid, but lawmakers may give the Pentagon funding greater scrutiny as well. Negotiators are likely to be tempted to use $10-billion-plus for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster fund as a kind of piggy bank to fund projects not requested by Bush.

The Senate bill reflects the freewheeling nature of the body, where it takes just a few Republicans to cross party lines to join with Democrats for more spending. That happened again and again, both in the Appropriations Committee and on the floor.

Except for a single vote last week, to kill $15-million for seafood promotion obtained by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., conservatives were frustrated in their efforts to pare back the spending bill.

During almost two weeks before the full Senate, the bill grew by more than $2-billion despite a toughly worded veto threat made on the first day of debate. Bush said he would veto any bill exceeding his $92.2-billion request for the war and hurricane relief plus an additional $2.3-billion to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic.

[Last modified May 5, 2006, 08:45:27]

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