Thursday, March 3, 2005

House appropriators plan to reduce President Bush’s $82 billion emergency war supplemental spending package by $800 million through cuts in foreign aid and reconstruction projects abroad.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, told reporters yesterday that the cuts are needed because most of the projects identified in the president’s proposal cannot “realistically” begin until next year. Mr. Lewis, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, said there is consensus from both parties but said things could change next week before the bill goes to the floor.

“We have run these numbers by the White House, and they are pleased with the schedule, us getting it to them early, but not 100 percent in agreement with our recommendations,” he said.

Congress is mulling over Mr. Bush’s request for an extra $82 billion in spending, including about $75 billion to fund the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be added to the Defense Department’s budget.

Democratic members said they hadn’t seen the package until yesterday and were reluctant to discuss specific areas of contention.

“For the most part, Democrats are prepared to support the supplemental as it is … and focus on accountability to make sure these funds are spent the right way guarding against waste fraud and abuse,” a House Democratic staffer said.

However, many in Congress have questioned some of the funding requests made by the White House in the supplemental bill, saying most of them aren’t emergencies and should be added to the department’s main budget.

Among the list of cut projects is $200 million for the Global War on Terror Partners Fund and another $200 million for the Solidarity Fund, two new programs sought by the White House. Both were deemed nonemergency items and scrubbed. An additional $570 million for projects in Afghanistan — such as the refurbishment of the airport in Kabul and the construction of power plants, schools and courthouses — will be considered for fiscal 2006 Defense Department budget.

“Most of these projects could not begin until 2006 anyway,” said Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican and head of the House Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations subcommittee.

Other projects received reductions in spending. The $658 million request to build a new embassy in Baghdad was slashed by 10 percent; $200 million was cut from the U.S. contribution for international peacekeeping missions, bringing the total spending to $580 million; and $45 million in debt reduction for countries affected by the Southeast Asian tsunami was decreased after lawmakers found through visits that it would provide no immediate relief to survivors.

By making these cuts, the appropriators were able to increase spending for immediate military equipment. Funding for new vehicles, armor, weapons and ammunition were increased by a little more than $2.5 million.

An additional $1.7 billion goes to training Afghan police forces, security for the government officials, counternarcotics and crop alternatives for poppy growers — the main ingredient in heroine, for which Afghanistan has become a top producer.

And all but $1 billion of the $4 billion requested for foreign aid and diplomacy was funded through cuts made in nonimmediate projects.

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