- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The House Appropriations Committee passed a lean war supplemental package yesterday that trimmed President Bush’s request for foreign aid money and added nearly $2 billion in defense spending.

Most of the $81.3 billion bill would fund the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, though some of the money would go to aid nations affected by the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami. Mr. Bush had requested $81.9 billion.

“This bill will fund $81.1 billion for the urgent needs of our military, but is $800 million less than the president’s request largely due to reductions for foreign aid spending either because they were poorly defined or not able to begin until after the 2006 appropriations process,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican and chairman of the committee.

The committee then voted 32-31 to approve an amendment by Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, to add $150 million for food aid to war-torn regions of Africa, bringing the bill’s total to $81.3 billion.

“In two of the countries affected by this amendment, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at least 1,320 people are dying each day,” Mr. Jackson said.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican, said the amendment was unnecessary because $1.6 billion is already available for emergency food assistance, but aid groups have not claimed it.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, added in opposition that “800 million metric tons” of grain and other sustenance was available through a government trust fund that can be accessed anytime.

However, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, said he was not persuaded by their arguments. “If there is a need and $1.6 billion is available, why hasn’t it been dispersed?” he said.

“I don’t know the actual number, but if people are dying every day … this committee should move forward to make sure this money gets to the people it is supposed to,” he said.

Mr. Lewis said he expects the bill to pass the House floor next week. It will move to the House Rules Committee on Monday, to define the parameters for debate, and then will be voted on the floor by Wednesday at the latest, he said.

Other changes to the bill include an amendment by Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, requiring that the $200 million in funding for the Palestinian government be withheld until an internationally recognized accounting firm conducts an independent audit of how the money will be spent.

The Palestinian Finance Ministry supports the audit, noting widespread corruption under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11.

Even with the passage of the food aid funding, the supplemental remains lean as Mr. Lewis requested, dealing only with emergency items.

The bill includes $76.8 billion for defense-related expenditures, which was $1.8 billion more than Mr. Bush had requested. The additions include $3.1 billion in spending to improve quality of life among military personnel.

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