House passes Defense spending bill, shifting debate to Senate

House passage Wednesday of the fiscal 2002 Defense bill and terrorism supplemental at the price tag sought by President Bush shifted the debate over the cost of the war on terrorism to the Senate, which will add it to a lengthy list of measures already awaiting action.

Ultimately, a conference committee will have to reconcile what could end up as very different House and Senate versions of the supplemental and decide whether to exceed the White House's $20 billion ceiling on it.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., announced Wednesday that he plans to attach his package of additional homeland security spending to the $20 billion supplemental title of the Defense spending bill when the committee marks it up next week.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said earlier Wednesday he would halve the $15 billion package to $7.5 billion and drop his insistence that it be included in negotiations on the economic stimulus package, pushing it onto the Defense bill instead.

The White House rejected that offer, saying Daschle must reduce his demand by another $7.5 billion--to zero.

Byrd also provided a rough outline of what his version of the supplemental would look like, saying he is "committed" to providing more than $7 billion in supplemental defense funds that the administration requested.

In addition, Byrd said he "will go much farther" toward fulfilling the president's pledge to give New York $20 billion in recovery aid this year than the administration's plan and the House bill, which provides roughly half that amount.

While Byrd has the votes to get the bill out of committee in defiance of Bush's threat to veto any supplemental that exceeds $20 billion, he might not have the votes to retain the extra funding on the floor: Republicans could raise the same 60-vote point of order they raised when Byrd tried to attach it to the stimulus bill earlier this month.

Byrd's homeland security package fell during the stimulus debate on a party-line vote, 51-47.

Even if Senate Republicans are as willing as their House colleagues to back up Bush's veto threat and strip Byrd's extra spending from the supplemental, the issue is unlikely to be resolved once and for all--setting up a potentially contentious conference that the White House may be forced to referee.

The White House characterized Daschle's offer Wednesday as a continuing effort to break an earlier deal between Bush and Congress to cap FY02 spending at $686 billion and allow no more than $40 billion in supplemental spending to respond to the terrorist attacks.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer noted that under the deal, Bush was already increasing the amount he was willing to spend.

"The President moved in the direction of those who wanted to spend more to fully fund the war on terrorism" and "the war on the home front," Fleischer said.

"Having reached that agreement, it is inappropriate for those who reached it to say, 'Thank you, now we want more,' " he said and reiterated Bush's vow to veto legislation that exceeds the spending deal.

In House action Wednesday, the chamber overwhelmingly passed the $317.5 billion fiscal 2002 Defense bill, with its $20 billion supplemental title, by a vote of 406-20. The vote followed a daylong debate that featured Democrats' continued pleas to provide more money now for New York and the war on terrorism, as well as another jurisdictional skirmish between the Appropriations and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, agreed to resolve the two powerful committees' skirmish over how to pay $466.5 million for Federal Aviation Administration operations and facilities and $75 million for emergency highway rebuilding.

They pledged to engage in a floor colloquy detailing how the money would be used and promised that appropriators' bid to fund those expenses out of the airport and highway trust funds would be "a one-time occurrence."

In exchange, the Transportation and Infrastructure chairman agreed not to exercise his option to strike provisions from the bill that called for the money to come out of the trust funds.

But before the two chairmen could begin their colloquy, Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee ranking member William Lipinski, D-Ill., called for the provisions tapping the airport trust fund to be removed, and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Petri, R-Wis., did the same for the language affecting the highway trust funds.

Because those provisions violate House rules and were not protected in the rule, they were dropped from the bill, and the carefully calibrated deal between the two chairmen was rendered moot.

While Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members may have won the floor battle, appropriators could very well score the ultimate victory if, as expected, they restore the provisions in conference.

Ironically, only moments later, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., successfully amended the bill to increase funding for airport baggage screening by $250 million--to be paid for out of the airport trust fund.

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.

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