Congress Tweaks The Battle Tab
Appropriators can't resist making changes to Bush's war budget.


Jim Geraghty

While most lawmakers on Capitol Hill think the president’s wartime funding bill will pass by the White House’s requested April 11 deadline, but it will look different than he wanted, as House and Senate appropriators passed separate, more expensive versions of the wartime funding bill Tuesday.

When Bush unveiled his $74.7 billion war budget at the Pentagon last week, he emphasized that he had little patience for the usual pork-ladling and riders that marked most of Congress’ funding bills.

”This request reflects urgent and essential requirements,” Bush wrote in a letter to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last week. “Much of the funding has been requested with flexible authorities. This flexibility will ensure requirements can be immediately addressed as they arise despite the unpredictable scope, duration and intensity of operations… I urge the Congress to refrain from attaching items not directly related to the emergency at hand.”

But appropriators on both sides of the aisle weren’t very big fans of Bush’s flexibility proposal.

“We didn’t just create huge slush funds to be used at the discretion of an agency,” said the panel’s chairman, Rep. Bill Young (R., Fla.). He said the House version “largely tracks the president’s request” and that the congressional notification provisions mirrored the precedent set by the 1991
Desert Storm supplemental.

“The administration is given the needed flexibility to allocate funds based on a dynamic combat environment and Congress is given sufficient accountability over the expenditures of taxpayer’s dollars,” Young said.

“Of the $75 billion request, the president has asked that $60 billion go straight to the Secretary of Defense without any stipulations from Congress attached,” said Rep. John Olver (D., Mass.). “If we were to accept this proposal, we would be abrogating our responsibilities under the Constitution. The public would have no input, through their representatives, into how any of this money is spent.”

Instead of providing a lump-sum appropriation of $1.5 billion to the Counterterrorism Fund for unspecified purposes like the president wanted, House appropriators are backing a plan to large chunks to specific programs. Their version has $498 million specifically set aside for border and port security; $85 million to reimburse state and local law-enforcement officers for increased security measures at airports; $30 million for “surface transportation security related initiatives”; $100 million for additional border-patrol staff along the Canadian Border; and $235 million for airport modifications to install checked-baggage explosive-detection systems.

House Republicans managed to keep some unwanted funding out of the bill. On a straight party-line vote, the panel defeated an amendment by Rep. David Obey (D.,Wis.) to add $2.5 billion for tightened security at dams and other domestic safety efforts.

The House version also provides up to $1 billion for Turkey, the same as the president wanted, but it also withholds the funds until Secretary of State Colin Powell assures Congress that Turkey is cooperating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The House panel shot down a proposal by Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R., Calif.), to shift the $1 billion in aid to domestic-security programs. Most appropriators on the panel said it wasn’t the right time to punish Turkey for not being more helpful in establishing a northern front in Iraq.

The Young version also includes $319 million in agriculture funding that the White House didn’t ask for. It would provide $250 million for the humanitarian food aid program administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and $69 million for the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, named after the late congressman from Missouri, which is the federal government’s agricultural reserve program. The United States uses the trust to help alleviate starvation in the developing world.

The version approved by the Senate’s funding committee also totaled almost $80 billion and doubled the amount the administration wanted for first responders and emergency workers to $4.3 billion. They also included $2.9 billion for border and transportation security.

With war funding needed by the Pentagon, lawmakers aren’t expecting a protracted fight over the bill. One staffer of a Senate Republican on the funding panel said the senator would support the bill “unless it turns into a Christmas tree,” laden with “presents” for special interests.

— Jim Geraghty, a reporter with States News Service in Washington, D.C., is a regular contributor to NRO.