Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nearly half of the $21 billion that House Democrats added to President Bush’s request for emergency war funding would go to nonmilitary spending and to pork projects.

The supplemental spending bill includes more than $3.7 billion in farm subsidies, $2.9 billion in additional Gulf Coast hurricane relief and $2.4 billion for social programs such as money for rural Northwest school districts, health insurance for poor children, energy assistance for poor families and others.

Mr. Bush yesterday called on Congress to pass legislation that funds the troops without extraneous spending provisions or requirements for an early withdrawal from Iraq.

“They have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special-interest spending for their districts,” said Mr. Bush, whose initial request funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as about $3.4 billion in hurricane relief.

“They have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said nonmilitary items in the emergency spending bill address vital needs that the previous Republican-led Congress neglected and that can’t go unfunded until the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“We are responding to needs that last Republican majority ignored, such as funding for children’s health care that was requested by Republican and Democratic governors,” Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards said.

Emergency spending bills historically are a magnet for pork projects, but critics of the war supplemental say the new Democratic majority has broken their vow to restore fiscal restraint to Washington.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said Democratic leaders were trying to “wrap pork in Old Glory.”

“To call some of the stuff in this bill an emergency must have Webster spinning in his grave,” Mr. Hensarling said. “The real emergency Democrats must have is the emergency of selling votes to get this thing passed.”

Debate is set to begin this week on the $124 billion emergency spending bill, which also would require all U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq by fall 2008 or sooner if benchmarks for progress are not met. A vote on the bill is scheduled for Thursday.

The more than $9.9 billion of nonmilitary spending in the House bill includes $1 billion to buy vaccines against a major bird-flu epidemic, $750 million for State Children’s Health Insurance Program, $500 million for wildfire suppression, $400 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and $100 million in food aid to Africa.

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the bill is “a blatant betrayal of the Democrats’ campaign promise to restore fiscal accountability to Congress.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned the validity of the criticism.

“Are they talking about the money that we have in the bill for health care for the poorest children in America — legislation that has been asked for by both Democratic and Republican governors?” Mrs. Pelosi said to reporters last week.

“Are they talking about disaster assistance, which they have refused to give to America’s farmers, which is long overdue?” she said. “I don’t know, but I am very proud of the product that we are putting forth. It makes our country stronger by improving our military readiness. It holds the Iraqi government accountable by putting forth the president’s own benchmarks.”

The bill’s $3.7 billion in agriculture assistance to U.S. farmers includes $1.4 billion to compensate ranchers who lost livestock in disasters, $283 million in milk subsidies, $74 million in peanut subsidies and $25 million in spinach subsidies. The legislation also adds $400 million to continue funding for rural Northwest school districts facing cuts in federal compensation because of declines in timber and salmon harvests.

It boosts the president’s request for Gulf Coast hurricane relief by about $2.9 billion, adding $1.3 billion for Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control projects, $30 million for colleges, $30 million for schools and $25.1 million for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has not indicated whether he will take up the House bill or introduce his own emergency spending legislation. Senate Republicans are expected to fight any funding that goes beyond the war effort or any measure to require a troop withdrawal.

Last week, the Senate in a near party-line vote rejected a Democratic plan to force all U.S. troops to pull out from Iraq by March 2008.

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