Senate approves roughly $80 billion war package as compromise emerges | NevadaAppeal.com

Senate approves roughly $80 billion war package as compromise emerges

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate voiced its approval Friday for a compromise bill providing almost $80 billion for initial costs of the Iraq war, its aftermath and the pursuit of terrorists, even as House-Senate bargainers put finishing touches on the measure.

Less than two weeks after President Bush asked lawmakers for a $74.7 billion package, negotiators all but finished a compromise the House seemed likely to approve Saturday — breathtaking speed for lawmakers. Though fighting in Iraq is winding down, legislators remain eager to approve the legislation quickly in a bipartisan show of solidarity with the troops.

Lawmakers added several billion dollars to the bill, largely aid for financially strapped airlines that Bush had not requested. They also refused to grant Bush much of the unfettered power he requested to control much of the money, insisting on limiting such funds and attaching congressional strings to them.

“All we’re saying is for God’s sake, let us know what you’re going to do,” said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Bargainers worked into the night to resolve lingering disagreements and were expected to resolve them by morning. But they failed to meet Bush’s original goal of sending him the bill by Friday.

They erased $3 million Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wanted to repair a dam in Waterbury, Vt., but included language blocking some chicken farmers from labeling their food as organic even if their animals had eaten non-organic grain. An extra $369 million in overseas food aid was included.

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But undecided was whether to provide a $50 million subsidy to the ailing American shipbuilding industry, or let producers of catfish collect emergency farm aid enacted months ago.

Eleventh-hour decisions were also being made over proposals for $98 million to finish building an agriculture research center in Ames, Iowa, and $106 million for government weather satellites. There were arguments over whether to prohibit DHL Worldwide Express, a German-owned delivery service, from shipping U.S. military cargo.

As final decisions were being made behind closed doors, the Senate resorted to a little-used procedure and by voice vote declared that when Senate leaders receive the formal copy of the legislation — perhaps Saturday — the bill would be considered passed. Senators than departed for a two-week spring recess.

Earlier, the two Republican-controlled chambers clashed during a public bargaining session in a basement room in the Capitol.

At one point, believing that Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., was not letting him speak, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, tossed his water bottle in the air and briefly stalked away from the table, saying, “I’m going to come back when you’re finished.”

Congress’ age-old rivalry with the executive branch also reared its head. Bush had wanted unfettered control of $60 billion of the nearly $63 billion the Pentagon would get, but the emerging House-Senate compromise slices the money he would control to $15 billion.

Reversing an earlier decision, lawmakers also voted by voice to require Bush to notify lawmakers of how he will spend the money five days before he dispenses it.

They also eliminated or limited Bush’s power over other funds he proposed. A $150 million Pentagon fund he requested to help insurgents around the world was eliminated, and $1.5 billion for Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge was sliced to $150 million.

Resolving one dispute, Bush won the power to give the Pentagon a role in dispersing some of nearly $2.5 billion the bill contained for rebuilding Iraq and providing humanitarian aid there. Some lawmakers wanted to steer the entire sum to the State Department, but final language included the Defense Department among the agencies that could get the funds, believed by many to be only a start on the ultimate costs.

The bill also included $2.2 billion for state and local emergency agencies — $200 million more than Bush proposed. Aid to U.S. allies and spending to bolster security for U.S. diplomats would come to nearly $8 billion, including $1 billion each for Israel and Turkey and assistance for Columbia, Pakistan and other nations.

A $3.1 billion package of aid for financially struggling U.S. airlines was all but completed. It was dominated by cash aid for carriers but also would provide an extra 26 weeks of benefits for laid-off industry employees.

Lawmakers included provisions to give modest salary increases to troops in combat and to establish a government-appointed commission to investigate how the Air Force Academy handled a spate of rapes and sexual assaults of female cadets.

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