WASHINGTON – Democrats prepared to fight for billions more for domestic security on Wednesday as the Senate debated a $78.7 billion package for the first bills of the war with Iraq, the confrontation with terrorism and the nation's struggling airlines.
Republican and Democratic leaders predicted the Senate would approve the package by Thursday night, reflecting both parties' desire to quickly provide the money as U.S. troops fight their way to Baghdad. The House was expected to approve a similar, $77.9 billion version of the measure by week's end, and a final compromise could reach President Bush by the April 11 deadline he has set.
Even so, battles remained over the legislation's details and final cost. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Democratic amendments would seek to add $4.8 billion for protection of ports, nuclear materials, and other domestic safety initiatives, bringing the total price tag for those programs in the bill to $9 billion.
"We feel, as you know, very strongly about the importance of providing the necessary resources" for domestic security, Daschle said.
Republicans expressed no doubts that the bill would be approved.
"There's no question we need the funds to sustain our vital military operations around the world," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
Both bills, for the remaining six months of the federal budget year, are dominated by funds for the Pentagon exceeding $62 billion. Bush requested that amount, though lawmakers gave him far less flexibility than he'd wanted to control the funds. Lawmakers have already approved more than $370 billion for the Defense Department for this year.
The two measures also contain about $8 billion to rebuild Iraq and provide assistance to Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Afghanistan and other allies of the U.S. effort to fight terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere. They also have more than $4 billion for local police and emergency agencies and other domestic security initiatives -- an amount Democrats say is insufficient.
"It is not a matter of partisan politics. It is a matter of protecting a vulnerable nation," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said Tuesday.
"We're in a money game," Stevens told reporters of Democratic efforts to increase spending for domestic safety programs. "There isn't anybody in the country who doesn't want more money" for those initiatives.
At the House committee, a Democratic effort to shoehorn $2.5 billion for local first-responders failed on a party-line 35-28 vote.
Also added by both committees was aid for the country's airlines, which have sought federal help in the wake of a war and terrorism threats that they say has harmed them.
The House panel included $3.2 billion in grants to bail out the airlines. The Senate panel approved $2.7 billion, including money for airlines' security costs, aid to airports, and extended unemployment benefits for jobless air industry workers.
Stevens said he believed the White House favored a far smaller airline package and predicted its size would shrink when House-Senate bargainers craft a compromise bill. Some lawmakers said they might try to erase or reduce the funds, arguing that the government should not try to save companies that would have failed anyway.
"It's time we stepped back and let the market shake out," said Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky.
The House bill contained the same $7.8 billion Bush proposed to rebuild Iraq and to help U.S. allies, while the Senate added $200 million. The House included $71.5 million for an interim U.S. diplomatic facility in postwar Iraq.
The House also included $165 million for administering smallpox vaccines and compensating volunteers who get ill after taking the shot, and for research into severe acute respiratory syndrome, which is spreading in Asia and elsewhere.
The Senate package included $98 million for construction costs of an agriculture research center in Ames, Iowa, that its supporters say will be a leading weapon in ensuring food safety from terrorists.