WASHINGTON – Lawmakers have pledged to rush to passage President Bush's $74.7 billion proposal for paying for the war with Iraq - but they want some changes.
Members of both parties are eager to support funds for troops in the field, but many are complaining that Bush is proposing to retain an unusual amount of control over most of the funds, limiting congressional strings.
They are also clamoring to add funds for items including state and local police and other emergency responders and for the independent commission examining the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And many say the bill falls far short of the many billions expected to be needed for a postwar U.S. role in Iraq, including reconstruction, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping.
"I have to tell you I've been handed a lot of requests from members to add" projects to the bill, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., who will be one of the bill's chief authors.
Young and his Senate counterpart, Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, both say they will try to keep the package's price tag close to Bush's figure. But as leaders try pushing it through Congress by April 11, the date the president requested, many expect its cost to rise.
House Democrats said the $4.2 billion portion of Bush's request for domestic security neglected $6.7 billion in needed spending. Extra funds should be provided to help states administer smallpox vaccinations, protect nuclear materials and other efforts, they said.
In a letter to Young, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the House panel's top Democrat, said Bush's request left "many pressing needs unmet at a time in which threats against the American people seem to be rising."
But underscoring the non-confrontational tone that has surrounded the bill so far, Obey's letter acknowledged that "constraints on the overall size" of the bill might mean some items would have to wait for future legislation.
Also weighing in Thursday were a group of senators including Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz. They asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to include $11 million so the Sept. 11 commission could complete its report by June 2004. The commission's leaders have said its current $3 million budget will be depleted this August.
The extraordinary leeway Bush wants in spending much of the bill's money also faces bipartisan resistance.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday that the unpredictable course of warfare meant "our budget plan must also have flexibility to deal with changing circumstances on the ground."
Rumsfeld would be able to transfer $59.9 billion of the $62.6 billion the bill has for the Pentagon among various accounts without the usual sign-offs from Congress. The bill would also create several smaller funds the administration could use for emergencies with little input from lawmakers.
"The separation of powers has worked well for 215 years," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., told Rumsfeld. "Count me out when you ask for these additional flexibilities."
And Obey told Rumsfeld at a House Appropriations Committee session that while some spending leeway in wartime is understandable, "Flexibility is one thing, but being able to turn the Constitution into a pretzel is another thing."
In interviews, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Young and Stevens, both said they would favor some limits on the flexibility Bush would get.
Members of both parties also said the $2.45 billion the measure includes for relief and reconstruction for Iraq was too low. Some private estimates have been many multiples of that amount over a long period of time, though U.S. officials say they are counting on contributions from other countries.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee, said it was "hard to imagine" that figure being sufficient.
"Clearly it will take more," said the panel's senior Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York.
Even Rumsfeld didn't rule out the need for more money this year. Many lawmakers say they think a second such bill is likely in a few months.
The government's budget year runs through Sept. 30.