House, Senate Reach Agreement on Iraq, Gulf Coast Funding

House and Senate Republican leaders Thursday finalized agreement on a long-sought $94.5 billion bill to pay for the war in Iraq and deliver a much-needed infusion of relief to Louisiana and other hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast states.

The bill won't clear Congress for President Bush's desk until next week, but the official submission of the deal would ease Pentagon worries of a money crunch caused by weeks of delays in creating a compromise bill.

GOP leaders overcame the last snag to agreement — insistence by two Senate GOP moderates that the bill include a promise to increase future spending on education and health programs — by winning endorsement from Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

The bill includes $65.8 billion for military operations and maintenance in Afghanistan and Iraq; personnel and energy costs; new weapons and ammunition; and an initiative to locate and disarm roadside bombs.

The bill also contains $19.8 billion in new money for hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast.

The agreement caps weeks of mostly behind-the-scenes talks on Capitol Hill over how to balance lawmakers' hopes for additional hurricane relief with President Bush's demand that the bill stick to his original $92.2 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricanes, with an additional $2.3 billion to combat bird flu.

The Senate-passed version of the bill had exceeded Bush's request by more than $14 billion, adding large sums for farm disasters, fisheries aid, veterans medical care, port security and to compensate Texas for taking on evacuees of Katrina.

Most of that extra money was dropped, as was $289 million to create a fund to compensate people if they were to be injured by a pandemic flu vaccine.