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Congress set to approve $80 billion for war, aid to airlines

WASHINGTON—Faced with Pentagon claims that the U.S. military will run out of money in two months, Congress was driving Thursday night toward votes to give President Bush nearly $80 billion to fight the war in Iraq, to assist foreign allies and to protect the homeland.

But in a clear rebuff of the president, lawmakers inserted restrictions on how the money could be spent and added more than $3 billion to help prop up the ailing airline industry, despite White House protests that the aid was excessive.

The White House also was forced to beat back two potentially embarrassing efforts launched by Republicans that would have eliminated aid to Turkey and banned German and French contractors from bidding on post-war reconstruction projects.

The House of Representatives and the Senate were moving Thursday night to approve the special spending bill in record time. Bush submitted his request to Congress only last week. Differences between the two bills aren't substantial, but will have to be reconciled. A final version should be ready for the president to sign next week.

"This is a wartime bill and our troops are in the field," Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in exhorting the House to a quick vote.

The legislation sets aside $62.4 billion to cover war costs, nearly $8 billion in aid to countries that have assisted the United States in the war in Iraq, $4.7 billion to enhance homeland security and more than $3 billion to help the airline industry.

The House bill provides $3.2 billion for the airlines and the Senate bill $3.5 billion, including $800 million in federal war-risk insurance.

Of the total, the administration had asked for authority to spend nearly $60 billion however it chooses. But lawmakers, arguing that Congress has the constitutional authority to determine spending, reined in Bush's request. The Senate bill would give him unfettered control over only $11 billion of the war funds, the House's bill $25.4 billion.

The administration objected to the limitations. "The situation in Iraq is fluid and unpredictable," a statement issued by the White House's Office of Management and Budget said. "And the administration needs to be able to allocate funding among the appropriate accounts to respond promptly to changing circumstances."

To no avail, the administration also urged Congress to reduce the amount set aside for the airlines, noting that the industry was undergoing major restructuring. "Excessive, generalized assistance would only delay and disrupt these important and inevitable changes," the statement said.

Some House Republicans, against the wishes of the White House and the GOP leadership, tried to strip $1 billion in aid to Turkey that the administration had requested. They argued that Turkey did not deserve the money because the Turkish parliament refused to permit U.S. troops to enter Iraq through the Turkish border. The effort failed 315-110.

"One of the qualities of friendship is steadfastness," said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo. "Turkey has failed us now in this present situation. If Turkey had done what the U.S. had requested and given its full support and assistance, many lives would have been saved."

In letters to Young, White House National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage urged lawmakers to keep the money in the legislation.

"Our disappointment at getting less than full cooperation does not alter the fact that a strong, economically stable, democratic Turkey serves as a model for the Islamic world," Armitage wrote.

Turkey, a long-time ally of the United States whose soldiers fought with the United States in Korea, has retained several high-profile Washington lobbyists to represent its interests, including former Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana, former chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

A House vote prohibiting reconstruction contracts to French or German firms was expected to be close. Supporters of the prohibition said France and Germany should not reap any benefits of reconstruction given their opposition at the United Nations to military action against Iraq.

In the Senate, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., offered a similar amendment but later withdrew it after a White House official called him to voice objections.

"It would be wrong to have our tax dollars going to companies and individuals within France and within Germany because I believe their behavior leading up to this was quite despicable," he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called Ensign's effort "enormously destructive."

"If America is going to become an arrogant nation ... this is a good way to begin," she said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.