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Thursday, April 3

Congress passes war spending package

By John Machacek | GNS

WASHINGTON - Congress passed bills Thursday night providing nearly $80 billion to begin paying for the Iraq war, but Senate Democrats lost their bid to add billions of dollars for homeland security aid to cash-strapped states and cities.

The Senate passed on a 93-0 vote its version of the emergency spending bill, providing nearly $80 billion to pay for war costs, related terrorism initiatives and aid to financially troubled airlines. The House passed its $77.9 billion version on a vote of 414-12. Nine members did not vote.

The Senate and House versions must be reconciled by a conference committee. President Bush has said he wants the war spending measure on his desk by April 11.

Despite the final vote, the Senate clashed throughout the day over homeland security aid. Republicans beat back a Democratic attempt to add aid to help protect borders, airports, railroads and mass transit operations.

The GOP-controlled Senate, voting along party lines, also rejected an amendment by New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton to more than double Bush's request for aid to police, fire and other emergency first responders and cities considered top targets for terrorism.

But senators voted 66-31 to adopt a GOP compromise, boosting aid for New York City and other highly vulnerable cities to $600 million - $500 million more than what had been in the bill. Clinton and Schumer were pushing for $4.3 billion for first-responder aid and help for high-risk areas.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, sponsor of the GOP plan, said he found adding even more money ``highly desirable'' because of needs in his native Philadelphia. But he couldn't convince other Republicans to add more new money to the emergency wartime spending bill.

The House version of the measure would provide $2.2 billion in direct homeland security aid to states and localities, a $200 million increase over the president's request. That amount also includes $700 million for high-threat areas.

Schumer claimed victory because the Senate allocation for high-threat areas closely tracks the House version.

``It is better than what we have,'' Schumer said.

Clinton said it was ``disappointing that we couldn't convince the opposition to do what was in the best interests of our nation and first responders.'' She said New York now has to make sure that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge follows through on promises that ``New York will be taken care of'' when the high threat money is distributed.

During the House debate, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin and other House Democrats were blocked in their attempt to add $2.5 billion for homeland security funding, pushed by a GOP majority trying to keep costs in line with Bush's request. The House version of the war spending package is $77.9 billion; Bush proposed $74.7 billion.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said Republicans "blocked critical assistance" for first responders and port, rail and nuclear security, including $14 million for New York.

At the administration's behest, the House overwhelmingly rejected an amendment by Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., to remove $1 billion that the bill would provide in aid to Turkey. Cunningham and other conservative Republicans wanted the aid withdrawn because Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to pass through the country for a northern front in the war against Iraq. The administration argued that Turkey was still a valuable ally, and needed the money to avert an economic crisis.

Both the House and Senate also appeared ready to pass airline aid packages over Bush's objections. Administration officials said the House proposal for $3.2 billion and the Senate proposal for $2.7 billion by the Senate are ``excessive'' and would only delay the ``fundamental restructuring'' of the troubled industry.

Schumer and Clinton also tried to quell a surprising spat between New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg over how money for areas at high risk of terror attacks will be split between cities and states. The disagreement could have an impact on other states and high-risk cities across the country.

Citing state costs in helping patrol vulnerable areas, Pataki urged senators and other New York congressional leaders to change a spending a formula that would give cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C., 80 percent of the House's proposed $700 million in high-threat assistance. States would get 20 percent.

``We'd like the two of them to work this out,'' Schumer said.

Schumer and Clinton said they favored the 80-20 split even for the $1 billion they would provide for high-threat areas from their amendment. But Clinton said there should be an effort to give states more in cases where there are ``shared responsibilities'' such as the New York City subways.

``I believe strongly that the 80-20 is important because local communities provide the front-line support,'' Clinton said. ``What we have seen is that unless you have that formula, the money for localities never gets there ... and gets stuck in state capitals.''