Top House GOP budget writers now say they will back Bush, oppose efforts to boost anti-terror spending

Wednesday, November 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a turnaround, senior Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said Wednesday they will support President Bush's drive to hold emergency anti-terrorism spending to the $40 billion Congress has already provided.

A day after Bush threatened to veto legislation exceeding that total, GOP leaders pressured Republicans on the appropriations panel _ which oversees spending bills _ to stand by the president.

Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said Wednesday for the first time that he will oppose efforts to exceed that spending limit when his panel writes a defense bill next Tuesday.

And at a Wednesday morning meeting of House Republicans, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who has been saying extra Pentagon funds are needed, said he would now oppose such efforts, said people who attended the session.

``There was a lot of talk this morning at the conference about doing what the commander in chief wants to do in a war situation,'' said Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y.

It remained unclear whether Republicans would stand firm against all efforts to add emergency funds. Democrats and many Republicans have said that besides defense, added billions are needed for the FBI, Coast Guard, public health and other anti-terror efforts, as well as for helping New York rebuild from the World Trade Center devastation.

Whatever the House does, the Democratic-controlled Senate seems inclined to provide more money than Bush wants.

Even so, the remarks by Young and Lewis underlined a concerted GOP effort to back Bush and avoid forcing him to confront members of his own party over spending for popular programs.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer defended Bush's position, saying the president would be happy to consider new spending requests after Congress returns in January.

``There's plenty of time next year in a more orderly, thoughtful fashion to take a look at exactly where the needs lie,'' Fleischer said.

Bush issued his veto threat Tuesday at a White House meeting with congressional leaders. He urged them to live within budget and emergency spending limits that were agreed to shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. New needs should be reviewed next year, he said.

But Democratic leaders, as well as top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Appropriations committees, say the spending deals were brokered before the recent anthrax attacks and the need for broader anti-terror efforts became clear. They say more money is needed for the FBI, Coast Guard, public health, food safety programs, as well as for the costs of waging the war in Afghanistan.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., back the president.

``He's concerned about spending just spiraling completely out of control,'' Lott told reporters. ``And I share that concern.''

The White House worries that any additional spending approved now will be built upon in coming years, possibly forcing Bush to confront an endless stream of budget deficits just as he prepares for re-election in 2004.

As a result of Bush's threat, many GOP lawmakers will have to choose between supporting more money for popular anti-terrorism efforts and backing a president of their own party.

Bush put himself in an awkward position as well. With the extra money likely to end up in either a defense spending bill or an economic stimulus measure, he may have to veto legislation that otherwise has strong bipartisan support to follow through on his promise.

Young said he believes about $2 billion more is needed for domestic anti-terror programs, plus billions more for defense and to help New York recover from the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has proposed adding $20 billion aimed at securing highways, airports, water systems, food safety and buttressing law enforcement and other programs.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is dropping any effort to negotiate an economic stimulus deal with the GOP.

Instead, he will present his panel with a measure containing fewer business tax breaks than the House and Bush want as well as more aid for the unemployed, including a temporary health insurance subsidy. It contains one piece common to all the plans: rebate checks aimed primarily at lower-income workers.

The Democratic bill also includes tax breaks intended to help New York City recover from the terrorist attacks and $6 billion for farm disaster payments and rural development projects.