Lawmakers ready to 'fast track' supplemental spending bill

With the military campaign in Iraq into its second week, House and Senate appropriators are putting the fiscal 2003 wartime supplemental appropriations bill on a fast track.

Anticipating numerous amendments from Democrats on homeland security and perhaps other issues, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., intends to take the supplemental to the floor Wednesday. House leaders, meanwhile, were intending to have the supplemental on the floor by week's end, although that timetable could move up if Democrats give a green light to move the bill more quickly.

While appropriators are still ironing out details of the supplemental, particularly with regard to defense items, House Appropriations Committee sources said their version of the supplemental will "closely track" President Bush's $74.7 billion request. The bill is likely to include similar functions totals as the ones laid out in the request-such as $62 billion for defense or $3.5 billion for the Homeland Security Department-although appropriators are tweaking various aspects of the bill and directing money to programs they feel are appropriate, sources said.

For instance, appropriators have balked at going along with the administration's request for a $59.9 billion reserve for defense needs, and instead are likely to put some conditions on that, giving the administration some flexibility on how to spend the funds, but simultaneously requiring accountability and congressional notification.

Sources said the defense language would mirror an agreement made between the White House and Congress during the 1991 Desert Storm operation. The supplemental request is also likely to appropriate the full $2 billion for first responders, sources said. The House has yet to make a determination on the size of an airline assistance package requested by the nation's major carriers, although if leaders do decide to move forward on the package, the money will come "above and beyond" the $74.7 billion request, sources said. Senate Republican leaders have nearly reached agreement on tacking onto the supplemental a $2.8 billion airline package-which would include $2 billion of direct appropriations for security-related needs and another $800 million to extend war-risk insurance.

Democrats also are expected to offer a host of amendments on the floor, likely boosting funds for homeland security and other domestic-related needs, though how many and for how much has not yet been determined. "It may be a repeat of the budget," said a Senate GOP leadership aide, noting the number of amendments Democrats offered on homeland security, National Guard and Army Reserves funding and other issues during the week the fiscal 2004 budget resolution was on the floor. "Now you're dealing with real bullets, literally," said the aide. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them coming back."