WASHINGTON – House Republicans' $86.7 billion proposal for Iraq and Afghanistan includes money President Bush (search) wants for an Iraqi witness protection program but drops funds he sought for that country's traffic police and ZIP codes.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young (search), R-Fla., unwrapped his version of the package Monday. He said he will probably fine-tune it when he tries pushing it through his panel Thursday but offered no details on how.
Regardless of whether he changes it, the House bill represents an attempt to defuse some of the political bombshells borne by the $87 billion version that Bush proposed a month ago. Lawmakers from both parties plan to discuss the wartime funding request with senior administration officials Tuesday at the White House.
Something similar to Bush's plan is expected eventually to pass Congress (search) with strong bipartisan support. Even so, the bill has become a target for Democrats eager to weaken the president's hand and for some Republicans uncomfortable with its cost and some of its fine print.
Opponents say Bush's proposal, particularly the $20.3 billion for reconstructing Iraq, is too lavish at a time of record federal deficits and tight domestic spending at home.
"I have scrubbed the president's request and made some improvements," Young said in a statement.
In its biggest departure, the House measure pares the Iraq rebuilding fund to $18.6 billion. But it follows the president's plan to make the expenditures a grant financed by the U.S. Treasurer, despite demands by some members of both parties to structure the spending as loans Iraq eventually would have to repay.
Administration officials and its defenders in Congress say the reconstruction money is needed to establish political and economic stability in Iraq, which could help hasten the departure of U.S. troops.
The GOP-run Senate, taking a week's recess for Columbus Day, hopes to approve its version of the legislation by mid-October. The Senate bill makes far fewer changes in Bush's plan.
Most of the bill covers U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and is widely supported by members of both parties. The House legislation would trim Bush's proposed $65.6 billion military request by about $400 million.
According to documents released by the committee and distributed internally on Capitol Hill, changes the House would make in Bush's plans include an added $251 million for extra body armor and clearance of unexploded ordnance. There also is spending added for jammers that can prevent bombs from being detonated by radio.
Members of Congress have criticized the administration for shortchanging U.S. troops for those items.
"It must be the secretary of defense's highest priority to eliminate shortages that, if not addressed, could cost soldiers their lives," says a report on the bill circulated to lawmakers and aides.
The House also would use $500 million to let the Army hire civilian security guards to replace reservists now performing that job, enough to let the Pentagon demobilize 7,000 to 10,000 reserves, the documents say.
As Bush proposed, the measure also includes $858 million over the next two years for the expenses of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Pentagon-run agency, led by L. Paul Bremer, that is in charge in Iraq. The money is to cover personnel costs, supplies, security, help for reporters and other expenses.
From Bush's request for rebuilding Iraq, the House version drops $50 million for traffic police; $300 million out of $509 million Bush wants for prisons; and $153 million that included money to buy garbage trucks for $50,000 apiece.
Also dropped from Bush's request is $100 million for restoring Iraq's marshlands, systematically emptied and destroyed by deposed President Saddam Hussein's government to punish Shiite Muslims who live there; $13 million for ZIP and area codes; $100 million to build seven public housing communities; and $150 million to begin building a new children's hospital in Basra.
Still included from Bush's plan is $100 million for a witness protection program for Iraqis who provide information on Saddam and other missing members of his government. Also surviving is $900 million for petroleum products for Iraq, which has the world's second largest oil reserves, while the oil industry is rebuilt.
While Bush proposed $800 million to help rebuild Afghanistan, the House bill increases that total to $1.2 billion.
The House version also adds $413 million to repair U.S. military facilities damaged by Hurricane Isabel, and $245 million for the U.S. share of the money to finance U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia.
A $100 million fund Bush wanted to control for "complex foreign crises" would instead be for overseas drought and famine assistance, particularly in Sudan and Liberia, under the House bill.