- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006


House and Senate Republican leaders yesterday finalized agreement on a long-sought $94.5 billion bill to pay for military operations in Iraq and deliver a much-needed infusion of relief to Louisiana and other hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast states.

The bill won’t clear Congress for President Bush’s desk until next week, but the official submission of the deal should ease Pentagon worries of a money crunch caused by weeks of delays in creating a compromise bill.

The last snag to agreement was insistence by two Republican senators on the House-Senate conference committee — Mike DeWine of Ohio and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — that the bill include a promise to increase future spending on education and health care programs, something House Republicans called unacceptable. Republican leaders bypassed their objections by winning endorsement from two conference committee Democrats — Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii.

The bill includes $65.8 billion for military operations and maintenance in Afghanistan and Iraq, personnel and energy costs, new weapons and ammunition, and an initiative to locate and disarm roadside bombs. The bill also contains $19.8 billion in new money for hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast.

The agreement caps weeks of mostly behind-the-scenes talks over how to balance lawmakers’ hopes for additional hurricane relief with Mr. Bush’s demand that the bill stick to his original $92.2 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan war fighting and hurricane relief, with an additional $2.3 billion to combat bird flu.

The Senate-passed version of the bill had exceeded Bush’s request by more than $14 billion, adding large sums for farm disaster relief, fisheries aid, veterans’ medical care and port security and to compensate Texas for taking on evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. Most of that extra money was dropped, as was $289 million to create a fund to compensate people if they were to be injured by a bird-flu vaccine.

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