House spending panel takes up war supplemental

The House Appropriations Committee Tuesday began consideration of a $74.7 billion fiscal 2003 war supplemental that would provide money for the war in Iraq as well as homeland security upgrades and international assistance.

The bill closely tracks President Bush's request in overall dollar terms, although the panel chose to grant the administration much less flexibility than it initially proposed and instead directed dollars to programs it felt were appropriate.

Tuesday afternoon, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., was also set to offer an amendment, drafted by GOP leaders, to provide nearly $3.2 billion in airline assistance. That money would be paid for outside the $74.7 billion total and would primarily go to reimburse airlines for security-related costs they have incurred in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The House supplemental would provide for nearly $62.4 billion for defense activities, about $59.7 billion of which would be to set up in a war-response fund. But instead of giving the Defense Department free rein over spending, the committee chose to grant only $25.4 billion for a general fund, which the administration could expend as necessary, provided Congress receives a seven-day prior notice.

The rest of the defense money was allocated based on estimates already provided by the Pentagon, including $12 billion for military personnel, $20.7 billion for operations and maintenance and $1.3 billion for procurement.

In addition, the bill provides $4.2 billion for homeland security-related items, including $3.5 billion specifically for the Homeland Security Department. First responders would receive about $2.2 billion, which is $200 million above the administration's request.

Of that amount, $700 million would be handed over to high-density, high-threat urban areas, while the rest would be allocated to states-although the committee said 80 percent of first-responder funding must be given to local and city officials as soon as possible.

The bill also provides $498 million for border and port security, $235 million for explosive baggage detection systems at airports, $400 million for FBI's counter-terror activities and $165 million for bioterrorism and public health activities. In addition, the supplemental would provide $8 billion for foreign assistance, about $200 million above the request.

Nearly $2.5 billion would go toward Iraqi relief and reconstruction, while another $2.34 billion would go toward bilateral economic assistance and $2.1 billion for foreign military assistance.

At the markup, Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., had mostly praise for the overall bill, although he said the legislation did not go far enough to "batten down the hatches" at home. But the panel defeated his amendment, 35-28, that would have boosted homeland security items by $2.5 billion. The panel also defeated by voice vote an amendment offered by Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., to slash the $1 billion in aid to Turkey provided under the bill.