Bush signs $79 billion war spending package

Twenty-three days after he requested extra funds, President Bush Wednesday signed into law a $79 billion supplemental bill to cover the costs of war in Iraq.

The fiscal 2003 supplemental spending package includes $62.6 billion for operations in Iraq; $8.2 billion for international assistance programs and an Iraq relief and reconstruction fund; $4.3 billion for homeland security initiatives; $3 billion for aviation assistance; and $136 million for the legislative branch.

House and Senate appropriations lawmakers sent Bush their final version of the bill on Saturday after three weeks of tense negotiations. Although House and Senate negotiators battled passionately, and at times testily, over the amendments added in the Senate, they had few significant disagreements over the body of the supplemental package and its funding for defense, homeland security and foreign aid.

The conference report provides $62.4 billion for national defense, while rejecting many of the administration's large, open-ended funding requests in favor smaller appropriations with more strings attached.

In place of the nearly $60 billion Bush requested for a Defense Emergency Response Fund, Congress will appropriate around $46.5 million to specific defense accounts, such as those for military personnel, operations and maintenance and procurement.

Congress instead gave the president a $16 billion Iraq Freedom Fund, specified how some of it should be spent and requires him to notify Congress five days before drawing any money from the fund. The Defense Department is also required to notify Congress before spending money appropriated for counterterrorism training activities or providing support to allies in the region, such as Pakistan and Jordan. Countries that have supported the U.S. war on terrorism will get $1.4 billion. The Department of Homeland Security is slated to receive $3.9 billion, including $2.23 billion for grants to first responders through the Office of Domestic Preparedness-$700 million of which for high-threat, high-density urban areas.

Turning away Bush's request for an open-ended counterterrorism fund, House and Senate appropriators again guarded their constitutional prerogatives to decide how federal funds should be spent by instead allocating the requested funds for particular Department of Homeland Security activities they deem high priorities: $228 million for the Coast Guard, $150 million to address emerging homeland security needs, as identified by the department, $170 million for immigration and customs enforcement, $330 million for customs and border protection, $535 million for the Transportation Security Administration. Another $162 million is directed to bioterrorism and public health programs.

The supplemental provides $7.5 billion in foreign aid, including $2.48 billion for the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. Nixing the administration's request to put the Executive Office of the President in charge of the fund, the supplement calls for the money to be dispersed according to the Foreign Assistance Act while enabling the president to directly fund several domestic agencies and the Defense Department.

The spending package also included:

  • $100 million for Veterans Affairs Department medical care for American reservists, but not active duty military personnel, returning from the war in Iraq.
  • $300 million for nuclear nonproliferation and infrastructure security.
  • $130 million for security upgrades to U.S. embassies, including in Baghdad.
  • $54.75 million emergency preparedness and response programs within the Homeland Security Department.
  • $15 million for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • $11 million for the September 11th Commission.