Senate to take up Iraq supplemental Tuesday

The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the Bush administration's $87 billion supplemental request for Iraq and Afghanistan Tuesday morning, and GOP aides said it was likely to go to the floor later that day.

Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., remains furious at the fast pace at which Republicans are seeking to move the bill, however, and he may seek to delay its consideration, although a spokeswoman said no decision has been made.

Senate Republican leaders are aiming for approval of the bill by the end of next week, before the chamber recesses until Oct. 14. The Senate was expected Friday to clear a five-month highway program extension and a six-month welfare extension, and leaders are still trying to broker a deal on the fiscal 2004 District of Columbia spending bill before turning to the supplemental spending bill.

The House may act during the week of Oct. 6 while the Senate is gone on its recess, although a markup has not yet been scheduled. A House delegation led by Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., is touring Iraq this weekend, and additional hearings are scheduled next week.

In an interview with CongressDaily Friday, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took an optimistic view that the supplemental package would remain intact and very close to what President Bush has requested after the Senate passes it next week.

"We're going to begin that debate next week. We'll have a number of amendments to show that the package should really be together," he said.

McConnell acknowledged that Democrats might force Republicans to take some tough votes, such as one that would pay for the supplemental by deferring tax cuts for the top-tier income earners. "I think we'll just have those votes and move on. Our goal is to get it to conference," he said.

Meanwhile, the White House today rejected suggestions that it agree to pare back or split its $87 billion supplemental request, saying all of the funds are needed for U.S. military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We view this as a package," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "This is the amount of resources needed."

But while asserting that the administration will fight for the proposal as written and that it should be passed in "the form of a supplemental," McClellan did not rule out allowing offsets to the proposed spending or allowing funding grants to Iraq to be given instead as loans. "We recognize that there is a congressional process," McClellan. "We obviously work very closely with Congress as we move through this process."

McClellan emphasized that the supplemental was drawn up based on recommendations from administration officials in the field, particularly L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq. Bremer met with the president Friday at the White House to discuss the reconstruction effort.