WASHINGTON – President Bush's $74.7 billion request to wage war and rebuild Iraq has some lawmakers mulling the possibility of adding additional money to pay for homeland security and bail out the airline industry.
Analysts say lawmakers are already trying to use the supplemental request to the 2003 fiscal budget — sent to Congress Tuesday — as an opportunity to load up on pet projects and other programs that likely won't make it into the 2004 budget.
"They would be banking on the fact that the president would never veto it," said Brian Riedle, political analyst for the Heritage Foundation, suggesting that spendthrift members might be tempted to add to the budget. "They’ll start out in committee with the $74.7 billion request and then throw in every program they feel is underfunded or pet project back home."
Democrats concerned about the president's proposed budget took to the media shortly after being briefed Monday about the details of the emergency spending measure.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., began the political volley by saying the allocation for homeland security dollars "doesn't seem to me to be sufficient."
On Tuesday, Jack Carson, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said that his boss is also concerned cities and states might be getting the short shrift.
"There are vast needs across the country," said Carson. "Sen. Daschle is supportive of every dime that is needed for our troops, but he does think [the request] falls short for homeland security."
The bulk of the president's request, $62.6 billion, will support U.S. troops both in Iraq and other operations related to the broader war on terrorism, Bush said Tuesday in a Pentagon address.
Another $4.2 billion will go for domestic security and about $7.8 billion will be spent on aid to Israel, Afghanistan and other United States allies as well as for increased security for American diplomats abroad. Money is also allocated to humanitarian aid and reconstruction in a "free Iraq."
"We continue to fight the war on terror by protecting our homeland," Bush said. "At the federal level, I'm requesting more resources for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to deal with this period of uncertainty. We will provide resources for patrolling and safeguarding our borders, funds to help the FBI investigate domestic threats in this time of war, additional funding for the Coast Guard for port security in the United States and in the Middle East.
"In this time of heightened security, we are expecting states and communities to take on greater responsibilities to protect critical infrastructure, and so I'm seeking additional resources to help states and cities make these preparations for the protection of our citizens," he added.
Carson said that the $4.2 billion allotted for homeland security isn’t enough, and that Daschle will be pushing for closer to $8 billion to $10 billion. He said first responder needs at the local level —firefighters, law enforcement, security for critical infrastructures, as well as chemical and biological warfare preparedness — are growing.
"Cities and states are incurring millions a day," he said.
But Riedle said Democrats trying to make homeland security their issue could find some resistance.
The new Department of Homeland Security was given $34 billion in the 2003 budget, compared to $16 billion afforded two years ago. In addition, state first responder programs earned $3.5 billion in the omnibus budget passed earlier this year.
"It’s going to get to the point where it’s never going to be enough," Riedle said, referring to Democrats' complaints.
But homeland security isn't the only topic with a hot lobby. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he wanted to add airline relief to budget discussions, possibly in the emergency package.
The nation's airlines have been cutting flights and workers due to drop in travel related to the war. Airline experts say the industry is estimated to lose another $10 billion dollars because of the Iraq conflict.
"I think it is likely that either in the supplemental or some other form, relief will be given to the aviation industry," Frist told reporters Tuesday, declining to give a sum.
But Bush offered a stern warning to Frist and others who think they can continue with "business as usual" in Washington.
"The supplemental should not be viewed as an opportunity to add spending that is unrelated, unwise, and unnecessary. Every dollar we spend must serve the interests of our nation, and the interests of our nation in this supplemental is to win this war and to be able to keep the peace," Bush said Tuesday.
Rep. Don Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that he would honor the president’s request and keep the supplemental "as close to the president’s request as possible," and "resist any efforts to add extraneous provisions."
"I have been given assurances by my leadership that the wartime supplemental will be given priority consideration on the House floor," Young said. "This bill is too important for our troops for it to get bogged down by non-appropriations issues."
Young's committee could vote on the bill as early as next week. Senate Appropriations leaders have also promised expedient committee processes. Bush has said he wants the legislation approved by the start of the Easter recess, April 11.