Senate OKs $109 billion Iraq, hurricane bill

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Senate Thursday passed a $109 billion bill to pay for the war in Iraq and hurricane aid for the Gulf Coast, but a veto threat imperils many provisions added by lawmakers.

The bill has grown to about $14 billion more than President Bush says he is willing to accept, and difficult House-Senate talks loom over how to cut it back to his request.

The White House made clear within minutes of the vote that Bush is not backing down.

“He calls on Congress to fund our troops and fund the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast, and then hold the line on spending elsewhere. That means don’t put unnecessary spending into this emergency legislation,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. “The president has made it very clear. He would veto legislation that goes above and beyond what he called for.”

The measure passed by a 78-20 vote. It contains $65.7 billion for war operations and $28.8 billion for hurricane relief, including grants to states to build and repair housing and $3.9 billion for levees and flood control projects in Louisiana.

Bush assails add-ons
Bush’s veto threat puts at risk items not requested by the president, such as $4 billion in farm disaster aid, $1 billion in state grants and $1.1 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast seafood industry.

“Unfortunately, there are some here in Washington trying to load that bill up with unnecessary spending,” Bush said Wednesday. “This bill is for emergency spending, and it should be limited to emergency measures.”

House leaders promise to take a hard line in upcoming talks with the Senate.

“The House will not take up an emergency supplemental spending bill for Katrina and the war in Iraq that spends one dollar more than what the president asks for. Period,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Such vows imperil numerous Senate add-ons, including $648 million for port security, $1.9 billion to secure U.S. borders and waters and efforts to boost the budget for New Orleans flood control projects.

David Vitter, R-La., obtained another $200 million in New Orleans-area flood control projects Thursday, bringing the total for such efforts to $3.9 billion. The addition was financed by cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund.

A test for Gulf Coast states
The upcoming House-Senate negotiations will test the determination and political strength — and ingenuity — of Gulf Coast Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi. They will fight for home-state projects and priorities despite opposition from House and Senate GOP leaders and the White House.

The White House will try to fight off possible attempts by lawmakers to further cut into a $67.6 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in their search for money for hurricane relief and border protection.

During almost two weeks before the full Senate, the bill grew by more than $2 billion despite a toughly worded veto threat made on the first day of debate. Bush said he would veto any bill exceeding his $92.2 billion request for the war and hurricane relief plus an additional $2.3 billion to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic.

Bush’s veto threat emboldened conservatives such as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. They undertook — and mostly lost — battles against home-state projects inserted by senior senators such as Cochran, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

But Cochran may face an uphill battle in trying to preserve controversial earmarks such as $700 million to relocate a freight line along the Mississippi coast further inland despite its being already rebuilt with insurance proceeds.

Bush wins few cuts
With the exception of a single vote last week, to kill $15 million for seafood promotion obtained by Shelby, conservatives failed to pare back the spending bill.

During action last week in the full Senate, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., succeeded in diverting $1.9 billion in Pentagon funds to border security needs such as new aircraft and patrol boats.

On Tuesday, lawmakers added about $1.7 billion for levees and other flood control projects in the New Orleans areas.

But unlike Bush’s request last week, this money for flood control would not be offset by cutting the government’s chief disaster relief fund.