WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Thursday proposed spending $1.8 billion more on defense needs than President Bush had requested for conflicts in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search) and cutting by about half his proposal for foreign aid and State Department programs.
"Supporting our troops is the number one reason for the supplemental," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, as he released its version of the war package.
The overall price tag is $81.1 billion, just below the president's $81.9 billion proposal.
Congress is likely to approve legislation very much resembling Bush's overall package this spring. House leaders hope their chamber will approve their bill later this month but the Senate isn't expected to produce its version until April.
The House bill includes about $905 million for aid to Indian Ocean countries recovering from the December tsunami (search) compared with $950 million Bush proposed. It would eliminate $45 million in debt relief that the president had requested for those countries.
The House changes reflect a bipartisan desire to be generous to U.S. troops serving abroad, despite concerns lawmakers had about parts of Bush's proposal.
Some have said Bush's request for $4.6 billion to make Army brigades more self-sufficient could wait until next year's regular defense bill. Even so, the money is in the committee's bill.
"Though concerns are being raised ... the committee is compelled to fully fund the Army's request at this time by an urgency to address the significant challenges the Army now faces," a report accompanying the bill states.
At the same time, the House bill underscores a reluctance by many Republicans to spend too much on foreign aid projects some consider questionable. This has been fed by Bush's ongoing struggle to control record federal budget deficits (search).
About $570 million of the $2 billion Bush sought for Afghanistan's reconstruction would be cut. That included $25 million for starting a law school and money for building courthouses and community housing and helping venture capitalists make investments.
The House measure also demonstrates a reluctance by lawmakers to cede too much control over spending the funds to Bush.
Some $400 million for U.S. allies that Bush wanted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to control -- split between economic and military aid -- was gone.
The measure also chastises Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) for not submitting a required report on Pentagon spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it orders additional, periodic reports.
Bush sent his request to Congress on Feb. 14. The package, combined with previously approved funds, would drive the totals spent so far on Iraq, Afghanistan and operations against terrorists beyond $300 billion for fighting, aid to allies and reconstruction assistance.
Overall, the $74.9 billion Bush requested for the Defense Department was to grow to about $76.7 billion.
The Army and Marines, doing most of the fighting, would get more than Bush sought, especially for equipment. The House bill would add $2.2 billion to Bush's $16.1 billion request for procuring weapons and equipment, including extra money for armor, night-vision goggles and armored trucks and other vehicles.
Funds for operations and maintenance -- which covers costs like flying aircraft and repairing trucks -- were being cut.
The bill also includes unspecified money to build a headquarters for the new director of national intelligence. Bush has nominated career diplomat John Negroponte to that job.