Senate panel OKs war spending

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The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday unanimously passed the emergency spending bill for the war on terror, but left out restrictions on using driver’s licenses as federal identification and asylum claims that passed in the House version.

The $80.4 billion bill is $1 billion less than the version that passed in the House three weeks ago, and $1.5 billion less than what President Bush had initially requested. It trims the foreign-affairs appropriations by $1.4 billion from what Mr. Bush requested, cutting aid he sought as a reward for nations that have contributed armed forces to the war on terror.

But the bill does not include the provisions setting standards for driver’s licenses used as identification for federal purposes and limiting asylum claims that passed in the House version. House leaders have said they will insist on that when the chambers have to hammer out differences.

Instead, the Senate is bracing for a debate on amnesty for some illegal aliens in the United States as part of the spending bill, which is scheduled to begin next week.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said yesterday he plans to offer his agriculture-workers bill, which would give hundreds of thousands of illegal-immigrant agricultural workers legal status.

“This debate is going to happen this year,” said Mr. Craig, adding that he’s deferred pushing his bill “for 12 months on this issue, and I won’t anymore.”

He said the only way he won’t offer his bill now is if leaders give him a commitment to bring the bill up at a set date later in this session of Congress.

Bob Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he had not heard of that proposal and could not comment on it.

Mr. Craig and other senators said that if he goes ahead with his amendment, it could begin a broader debate over immigration policy. That debate could include expansion of some other worker-visa programs, and possibly, a discussion of Mr. Bush’s guest-worker proposal.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said that’s a fight he wants to postpone. He is in the middle of a series of hearings on immigration security.

He and other Republican leaders want to keep the underlying spending bill focused solely on emergency spending for the war on terror, and fear that having the immigration debate now could derail all of that.

Most of the money — $74.4 billion — in the bill goes to fund ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It includes raising the death gratuity for troops killed in action to $100,000, and raises the maximum Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance payment to $400,000.

The bill also has $907.6 million in relief for victims of last December’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

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