House panel approves $13B Kosovo package

Despite clear divisions in the House over U.S. policy in the Balkans, the House Appropriations Committee Thursday reported a $12.9 billion emergency supplemental spending bill to pay for military and relief operations there.

"This recognizes that, whether we like it or not, this money has already been spent, most of it," said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.

Across the Capitol, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said there is "considerable debate about what the final number is" in the Senate version of the supplemental, with some senators hewing closer to the president's original request and others hoping for increased funding.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., accused Republicans of loading the bill with unnecessary programs, and has charged some Republicans with hypocrisy for seeking to double funding for a mission they do not support. The White House had requested about $6 billion.

The committee turned back an $11.7 billion Obey substitute that would have boosted some of the president's military requests and added disaster assistance for Central America and agriculture assistance.

The Obey plan would have eliminated GOP additions such as almost $1 billion for military construction, but it was defeated by a vote of 35-20.

"Believe me, this is not a Christmas tree," said Young. "We're talking about mission-related facilities."

Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., failed to add an amendment that would have added language identical to a House-passed bill that would cut off funding for the operation if the president used ground troops without congressional authorization.

Istook noted that numerous committee members had voted for the bill on the House floor, and said he wanted to use the amendment to ensure that members were consistent in their votes.

But Young came out against the amendment because it would slow down the spending bill, and it was defeated by voice vote when an insufficient number of members requested a recorded vote.

Obey released a letter from Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew outlining the administration's views on the committee's bill that was measured in its criticism.

Lew said the administration request was the "appropriate level of funding" and that "Congress should resist the temptation to add unrelated expenditures, even important ones, which could delay the process, because that would undermine the very goals that the funding is intended to meet."

Lisa Caruso contributed to this story.

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