House, Senate Panels Back Funds for War
House and Senate appropriation committees moved rapidly Tuesday to approve emergency spending for the war in Iraq, but only after adding aid for the struggling airline industry and boosting the price tag of the total package to about $78 billion.
President Bush asked for $74.7 billion through Sept. 30 to pay for the war and other costs, including more funds for allies and anti-terrorism defenses at home.
Bush also urged Congress to resist adding money to the bill. But responding to the airline industry’s financial plight since the 2001 terrorist attacks -- worsened by public anxiety over flying during wartime -- Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined to add a $3-billion-plus rescue package to the spending bill.
A spokesman for the White House budget office did not indicate whether the administration would fight the airline aid, saying officials would look at the final version of the bill when it clears Congress.
In a bipartisan show of wartime deference to the commander in chief, lawmakers largely gave the president the funds he requested. The House measure totals $77.9 billion. The Senate bill is about $1 billion higher.
Both would provide roughly the $62.5 billion sought by the administration for military expenses ranging from food for the troops to replacement missiles, $2.5 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq and $5 billion in aid to other countries, such as Israel and Jordan. Both measures also include $1 billion in aid for Turkey, despite congressional anger over the country’s refusal to let U.S. troops launch a northern front from its soil.
“When my children do something intentionally bad that hurts other people, the last thing I do is increase their allowance,” said Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-San Diego), who unsuccessfully sought to strip the aid to Turkey.
Aid supporters said removing it would undercut Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who arrived in Turkey on Tuesday as part of an effort to rebuild relations. Supporters also argued that Turkey has opened its airspace to U.S. warplanes and will be needed as a key ally in the future. The bill requires that before any money is provided, the administration must make a finding that Turkey is cooperating with the war effort.
Both versions would provide more than $4 billion for homeland defense, including strengthening seaports. The House measure includes $144 million for administering the smallpox vaccination and for compensating volunteers who experience adverse reactions.
“We may be witnessing a rare event -- a smooth supplemental appropriation,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog. “It’s amazing how fast Congress can move when it wants to, and certainly it wants to move fast on making sure that the war effort is adequately funded.”
Bixby expressed doubt that the administration would “complain too much, if at all,” about the airline aid.
Defending the aid, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said, “The places that depend on airline transportation to bring tourists in -- the hotels -- are suffering. It’s not just the airlines that are suffering.”
The full House and Senate are expected to approve their versions of the bill within days and to send Bush a compromise measure by April 11.
Differences to be worked out include details of the airline aid provisions. The $3.2 billion House package would reimburse carriers for the costs of security measures that Congress required after the Sept. 11 attacks, such as fortifying cockpit doors.
The $3.5-billion Senate measure includes $225 million for a 26-week extension in benefits for laid-off airline workers and $375 million to help airports pay for increased security. The Senate also would suspend for six months a post-Sept. 11 security tax imposed on passenger tickets.
The aid would be on top of the $15-billion airline rescue package approved by Congress shortly after the 2001 attacks.
The House bill would prohibit airlines from receiving the aid if their executives receive a pay increase, a provision added after reports that some airline executives received multimillion-dollar compensation packages even as their companies posted losses. The Senate also seeks to limit executive pay, although it is less restrictive than the House bill.
The airlines lost more than $10 billion in 2002 and could lose another $10 billion or more this year if the Iraq war does not end quickly, according to the Air Transport Assn.
Democratic senators plan to make a bid on the Senate floor to increase funding for homeland defense, perhaps by as much as $9 billion. In the House committee, Republicans defeated a Democratic effort to add $2.5 billion for homeland defense.
GOP leaders contended that they have provided enough money for homeland defense for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. “We’re not shoveling money out just to say we’re shoveling money out,” said Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.).
Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike refused to give the White House all the authority it sought to spend money as it sees fit without prior congressional approval.
“We didn’t just create huge slush funds to be used at the discretion of an agency,” said Rep. C. W. “Bill” Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said, “Handing a blank check to the secretary of Defense or Homeland Security or the attorney general without specifying how it is to be spent is not a responsible exercise of the congressional power of the purse.”
One item evoking strong emotions during the debate in the House panel was a proposal to deny postwar reconstruction contracts to firms in France and other nations that opposed the U.S.-led effort to win U.N. Security Council support for the war. But the plan was rejected.