White House, lawmakers discuss supplemental request

Congressional leaders and appropriators headed to the White House Monday afternoon for a meeting with President Bush and White House staff about the contents of the administration's imminent fiscal 2003 supplemental spending request to pay for the military campaign in Iraq.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer would not say how much the president will seek to pay for the war with Iraq and for homeland security. But he cautioned that the $80 billion figure reported in several news outlets was not accurate, while suggesting the amount would be closer to between $70 billion and $75 billion.

Sources said the bill will include $62 billion for the Defense Department for the war and terrorism-related expenses, and about $3.5 billion for domestic security programs. It also will include between $5 billion to $8 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq, increased security for U.S. diplomats, and assistance to Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Fleischer said the request will only cover military and homeland security concerns, but did not rule out the possibility of financial assistance for U.S. airlines being included.

Bush sidestepped offering a dollar figure last week, when the House and Senate considered his tax cut proposal. Fleischer said the White House needed to gauge the early stages of the fighting so the supplemental appropriations bill could be expressed "with the greatest precision." Both House Appropriations Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have said they would like to complete work on the supplemental by April 11.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders are trying to whittle down the number of amendments left to be considered on the fiscal 2004 budget resolution. Under an agreement reached last week, Republicans and Democrats can offer just 40 amendments each-and must have filed the list of those amendments by 4 p.m. Monday. All votes are expected to be finished by Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Democrats said they are wary Republicans will try to reconsider an amendment that passed Friday that devoted $100 billion of the $726 billion growth package to cover the cost of the war in Iraq. "Their intention is to take it out," said Budget ranking member Kent Conrad, D-N.D., emerging from a late-night meeting Friday. But with the supplemental request pending, Senate GOP leadership aides said Monday it was unlikely Republicans would try to restore the full $100 billion.

During Friday's session, the Senate passed 51-49 an amendment by Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to double Amtrak funding to $1.8 billion, although it would be offset with money from the $1.3 trillion overall tax cut, not the now-$626 billion growth package ordered under reconciliation.

The Senate also passed an amendment by Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., that Senate Budget Committee GOP staff said would boost highway spending by about $63 billion over the next six years, adding about $10 billion to the budget for fiscal 2004. But the Senate defeated, 62-38, a much-touted moderates' amendment to reduce the tax package down to $350 billion.