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Supplemental Spending Bill for Iraq, Gulf Coast Heads to Bush's Desk

The Senate Thursday sent President Bush an emergency spending bill meeting his funding requests for America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid to Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

The 98-1 vote on the $94.5 billion House-Senate compromise legislation gave much-needed funds to support U.S. troops overseas. Most of the money — $66 billion — goes to the Pentagon for military operations overseas. Only Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., voted against it.

Bush has said he will sign the bill into law.

The bill would bring to almost $320 billion the tally for the campaign in Iraq and $89 billion for the one in Afghanistan.

Still, there is increasing concern in Congress about the cost of the war in Iraq and the fact that the spending is kept on a set of loosely policed books that are kept separate from the rest of government operations.

Final action on the bill was welcomed by Gulf Coast lawmakers, especially relatively junior Louisiana delegation members who felt their Katrina-devastated state was shortchanged in a similar measure last December.

The bill contains $3.7 billion for Louisiana flood control projects, and Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and GOP colleague David Vitter are confident their state will receive $4.2 billion of $5.2 billion contained in the bill for direct grants to states. Louisiana plans to use its share to repair and rebuild housing stocks.

"Many people didn't have insurance because they weren't in a flood plain," Landrieu said. "And then the levees broke and people, middle-income families, wealthy families and poor families lost the largest asset they had."

An earlier veto threat by Bush forced senators to strip some things out:

—More than $14 billion for such things as aid to farmers outside the hurricane zone and for the Gulf Coast seafood industry.

—Democratic initiatives to beef up port security and veterans medical services.

—A controversial plan backed by Mississippi GOP Gov. Haley Barbour and the state's powerful Senate delegation to pay CSX Transportation $700 million for a recently rebuilt freight rail line along the coast so the state could use its path for a new highway.

Notwithstanding approval of the emergency spending measure, lawmakers are getting restless over the practice of funding wars through ad hoc supplemental bills outside the annual budget and thus not subject to budget limits that curb the growth of other government programs.

On an unrelated defense policy bill, senators Wednesday voted 98-0 for an amendment by John McCain, R-Ariz., to require future funding for the wars to be considered in the same way as other government spending measures.

"This bill continues the charade that this war should be funded off budget instead on including the money our troops need in the regular budget that's requested by the president and sent to us," said Patty Murray, D-Wash., as debate closed Thursday.

The bill adheres to Bush's demand of a bill capped at $94.5 billion — including $2.3 billion to combat avian flu — though lawmakers found extra money for grants for Mississippi, Texas and Alabama by cutting back on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's chief disaster fund.

That move raises the likelihood that more FEMA funds will have to be passed before the end of the year if not before Election Day.

The compromise bill includes Bush's plan to provide 1,000 more Border Patrol agents along the Mexican border, send about 6,000 National Guard troops there and build detention space for 4,000 illegal immigrants.

Efforts by Gregg to add funding for capital needs for border security such as helicopters and other aircraft and new vehicles to patrol the border were rebuffed by the White House.

The overall emergency bill's long path into law began in February as a $92.2 billion request by Bush. He later agreed to additions for Louisiana levee projects, border security and avian flu.

Bush's determination that the measure not exceed his request set the terms for endgame talks, and when the agreement was unveiled, the White House and House Republicans trumpeted their success in sticking with the target.

But while many Senate extras were tossed overboard, others were financed by simply putting off spending that will be required to be included in the next emergency bill, expected early next year.