- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

1:14 p.m.

The Senate today sent President Bush an emergency spending bill, meeting his funding requests for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid to Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

The 98-1 vote on the $94.5 billion House-Senate compromise legislation gave much-needed funds to support U.S. troops overseas. Most of the money — $66 billion — goes to the Pentagon for military operations overseas.

Mr. Bush has said he will sign the bill into law.

The bill would bring to almost $320 billion the tally for the campaign in Iraq and $89 billion for the one in Afghanistan.

Only Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, voted against the bill. He is opposed to a provision endorsing Mr. Bush’s $873 billion “cap” on the annual appropriations bills that Congress passes each year. Mr. Specter is pushing for $7 billion in additional money for education and health programs.

Final action on the bill was welcomed by Gulf Coast lawmakers, especially relatively junior Louisiana delegation members who thought their Katrina-devastated state was shortchanged in a similar measure in December.

The bill contains $3.7 billion for Louisiana flood-control projects, and Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu and Republican colleague David Vitter are confident their state will receive $4.2 billion of $5.2 billion contained in the bill for direct grants to states. Louisiana plans to use its share to repair and rebuild housing.

“Many people didn’t have insurance because they weren’t in a flood plain,” Mrs. Landrieu said. “And then the levees broke and people, middle-income families, wealthy families and poor families lost the largest asset they had.”

An earlier veto threat by Mr. Bush forced senators to strip out some things:

— More than $14 billion for such things as aid to farmers outside the hurricane zone and for the Gulf Coast seafood industry.

— Democratic initiatives to beef up port security and veterans medical services.

— A controversial plan backed by Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and the state’s powerful Senate delegation to pay CSX Transportation $700 million for a recently rebuilt freight rail line along the coast so the state could use its path for a new highway.

Notwithstanding approval of the emergency spending measure, lawmakers are getting restless over the practice of funding wars through ad hoc supplemental bills outside the annual budget; the supplemental bills are not subject to budget limits that curb the growth of other government programs.

On an unrelated defense policy bill, senators on Wednesday voted 98-0 for an amendment by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, to require future funding for the wars to be considered in the same way as other government spending measures.

“This bill continues the charade that this war should be funded off budget instead of including the money our troops need in the regular budget that’s requested by the president and sent to us,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, as debate closed today.

The bill adheres to Mr. Bush’s demand for a bill capped at $94.5 billion — including $2.3 billion to combat avian flu — though lawmakers found extra money for grants for Mississippi, Texas and Alabama by cutting back on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) chief disaster fund.

That move raises the likelihood that more FEMA funds will have to be passed before the end of the year if not before Election Day.

The compromise bill includes Mr. Bush’s plan to provide 1,000 more Border Patrol agents along the Mexican border, send about 6,000 National Guard troops there and build detention space for 4,000 illegal aliens.

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