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Friday, April 11

State Department to direct humanitarian relief

By Brian Tumulty | GNS

WASHINGTON - House-Senate negotiators agreed Friday to have the State Department oversee $2.47 billion for humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq as part of an $80 billion supplemental spending bill that also covers the cost of the war and homeland security.

Negotiators also agreed to a Senate provision to provide additional jobless benefits to airline employees and aircraft manufacturing employees who, according to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., face a 15 percent unemployment rate.

That provision is part of $2.9 billion in aid for U.S. airlines, including $2.39 billion in grants for the carriers as reimbursement for installing bulletproof cockpit doors on planes and other security costs.

The House plans to approve the $80 billion compromise Saturday by a voice vote after negotiators work out some loose ends overnight. The Senate plans to accept the bill after House approval without a vote. Afterward, Congress will adjourn for two weeks.

Still to be decided were the final details of the homeland security package and numerous pork-barrel spending items the Senate added that House leaders oppose.

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, expressed confidence the senior Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate committees would conclude negotiations overnight.

"It's a lot easier to settle that stuff when you're going nose to nose than in a big room talking to the TV cameras,'' Obey said.

Negotiators also faced a Friday deadline set by President Bush for $63 billion in additional money to pay for the war.

Members of Congress from both parties had bristled at Bush's request for unprecedented freedom in deciding how to spend the defense money, which members said would usurp their constitutional duties as keepers of the purse.

However, a compromise was struck in which the Defense Department will notify members of Congress before $16 billion of the defense money is spent.In another compromise, the $2.47 billion for humanitarian relief will be funneled through the Foreign Assistance Act, giving the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development major roles. The president still would have some discretionary authority but would have to notify Congress before the money is spent.

"There are compromises on everything,'' said Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Calif. However, the relief for unemployed airline workers essentially adheres to the proposal the Senate adopted.

Workers who have lost jobs at airlines or aircraft manufacturing firms will be eligible for an additional 26 weeks of unemployment benefits after they exhaust their regular state-provided insurance coverage. Meanwhile, the two highest paid executives at each airline would face new limits on their stock options and other special compensation if their airline receives federal aid.