WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) asked Congress Tuesday for an additional $691 million to aid victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters as the election-year price tag for recent emergencies surged toward $13 billion.
Bush's latest request included damage caused by Hurricane Jeanne (search), the last of four major hurricanes that lashed Florida and other states in the South and East over the past several months.
Congress has already approved $2 billion for hurricane victims, but had yet to act on two other requests totaling $10.2 billion that Bush made last month.
Leaders believe lawmakers will approve the remaining $10.9 billion — including Tuesday's request — before they adjourn for the November elections later this week.
On a separate but politically related track, Republican lawmakers and administration officials continued exploring whether they could shrink a Senate-passed $3 billion package of assistance for farmers and ranchers hit by drought, floods or other weather problems.
Democrats sought to capitalize on what could be a risky effort by Republicans — trimming disaster aid for farmers in political battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, even as hurricane aid grows ever larger.
"This is a national issue," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D., told reporters. "It's not just Florida, it's not just South Dakota. There are issues that have to be addressed and victims who have great needs all around the country."
Bush has never requested drought aid.
In his request Tuesday for more hurricane aid, he once again asked lawmakers to "limit this emergency funding to those items directly related to the recovery efforts from the impact of these recent major disasters."
Even so, the administration and GOP-led House seem willing to consider a smaller drought package with budget savings — perhaps in other agriculture programs — to pay for it.
"They're helping us find" savings, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said of his efforts with the White House on drought legislation. "So there's an implicit recognition of the fact we're going to do it."
Bush's latest hurricane request seeks extra money for damaged farmland, Defense Department facilities, highways, veterans hospitals and river channels.
It also included another $50 million to help hurricane victims in Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations — on top of $50 million Bush already proposed for those countries.
The new money Bush asked for also included:
—$145 million for Florida's hard-hit farms and nurseries, most of that for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency to help pay for preventing runoff damage and for soil erosion, and to repair farms and ranges.
—$116.2 million for the Department of Defense for costs it incurred for evacuations, base preparations and to pay for damage at military installations.
—$46 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore navigation channels and repair beach damage.
—$11 million for the Interior to repair national wildlife refuges and national parks.
The new request for money stemmed from updated hurricane assessments, said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.
On Sept. 7, Congress approved the first $2 billion for hurricane aid that Bush had proposed a day earlier.
Members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees are hoping Congress will provide at least several hundred million dollars more than Bush requested, particularly for farmers and highways.
But with the administration trying to contain the cost of legislation, the prospects of success are unclear.