Add-ons to war spending bill hold up negotiations

House appropriators Wednesday postponed their tentatively scheduled conference committee on the fiscal 2003 wartime supplemental, as they continued to lock horns with their Senate counterparts over what they complain is extra spending and pork-barrel projects in the Senate bill.

Appropriations sources in both chambers were hopeful Wednesday they could still convene the conference, although it could slip until Thursday morning. But appropriators remain committed to passing the bill before leaving for a two-week recess at the end of the week.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, summed up the feeling in the House saying, "Everything in our bill is clean-and the conference should be clean too."

While the House and Senate seem to be ironing out the major components of the bill, namely overall defense numbers, the Senate's inclusion of various projects and other items unrelated to the war in Iraq or homeland security has caused friction between the two Appropriations committees.

House appropriators so far have balked at the Senate add-ons, which Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has insisted must be included in the conference report in order for the legislation to pass the Senate by the end of the week.

Responding to questions about the dispute Tuesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said he remained optimistic the differences could be worked out, even if most of the heavy lifting on the tangential items has to be done in conference.

"If you don't have a conference, it will never get started," said Young. "We will have a conference."

Among Senate add-ons in dispute are language inserted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., directing that catfish farmers be eligible to receive disaster relief aid enacted in the recent 2003 omnibus bill. Another provision by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., deals with organic food labeling. And a $98 million earmark for agriculture research labs in Ames, Iowa, was inserted by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Other outstanding issues include: $117 million for satellite construction directed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; $3.3 million for the Waterbury Dam in Vermont; $50 million to leverage $1 billion in commercial loads to private shipbuilding firms; and even $500,000 to law enforcement costs related to the recent Station Night Club fire in Providence, Rhode Island.

In addition to the Senate add-ons, the major issues to be worked out in conference include the details of an airline assistance package, how much authority should be granted the Pentagon and the State Department over Iraqi reconstruction funds, and the amount of flexibility granted to the administration to allocate Defense money to prosecute the war.

Overall, the two bills are close in overall dollar figures. The House bill totals $77.9 billion, while the Senate bill is approximately $78.9 billion.