- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The House yesterday approved a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill that funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, hurricane recovery on the Gulf Coast, avian flu preparedness and President Bush’s border security plan.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today and send it to Mr. Bush.

House and Senate negotiators passed a crucial test by cutting more than $14 billion in extra funding from the Senate’s version of the bill. Mr. Bush promised a veto if the final measure pushed beyond $94.5 billion.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the House vowed to stick to the president’s number and “Republicans made good on this promise.”

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, said “it is far past time that Congress complete action on this legislation” because troops fighting overseas desperately need the resources.

Conservatives still had reservations.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said nearly $5 billion goes to projects that have nothing to do with hurricane relief or the war effort, the original targets of the bill. “I cannot support adding nonmilitary spending to an emergency military spending bill,” he said after voting against the measure.

The bill, which passed on a 351-67 vote, provides $65.8 billion for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including money for Humvees and tanks; and $19.8 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, including $500 million in agricultural assistance. The agricultural package was reduced from $4 billion in the Senate version.

Avian flu preparedness efforts receive $2.3 billion, and border security receives $1.9 billion. Both items were requested by Mr. Bush.

Conservatives said items that simply don’t belong in the bill include $35.6 million for mine safety, $27.6 million to repair utility steam tunnels in the Capitol Power plant, $107 million for international narcotics-control efforts, $38 million for oyster activities, $10 million for Americorps, and funding for a few Army Corps of Engineers projects.

They said even more extraneous spending would have been included had Mr. Bush not threatened a veto. “Having the president make a serious threat … was just vital,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who voted against the bill.

Negotiators killed a contentious Senate project that would have provided $700 million to reroute a railroad in Mississippi, as well as language that critics said would have forced the Navy to reimburse Northrop Grumman Corp. for hurricane damage, lifting the burden from insurance companies.

Also cut in the final bill were about $1 billion for fisheries and $648 million for port security.

House negotiators pared down their war-fighting package to accommodate Mr. Bush’s border security request, which includes $708 million to deploy National Guard troops to the southwest border and $1.2 billion for more agents and detention beds.

Democrats largely supported the spending bill but took the opportunity to criticize the war.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said “the administration does not want to answer” for the war’s cost.

Both Democrats and Republicans complained that the administration funds most of the Iraq war through off-budget “emergency” spending bills rather than including requests in the annual budget.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, will offer an amendment to the defense authorization bill requiring most of the future Iraq war funding requests to go through the normal budget process.

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