White House Takes Aim At Non-Iraq Money In War-Funding Bill


Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 8:58 pm
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House is taking aim at much of the $21 billion in congressional add-ons to President Bush's funding request for the Iraq war.

Billions of dollars for heating subsidies, farmers and wildfire fighting are likely to be dropped when lawmakers draw up a second bill after Bush's veto of the first. Additional money for the Pentagon, veterans and hurricane victims is likely to survive.

The extras that Democrats tacked onto the bill have been largely overshadowed in the test of wills between Bush and rivals in Congress over the war in Iraq.

But White House allies on Capitol Hill are itching for a fight that would demonstrate to Republican core voters that the party is serious about challenging government spending.

At issue is $21 billion above Bush's request in money for the military and veterans, aid for farmers and hurricane victims, airport screening machines, heating subsidies, rural schools and health care for children of the working poor.

``The bill is loaded up with billions of dollars in non emergency spending that has nothing to do with fighting the war on terror,'' Bush said Tuesday after vetoing the measure. ``Congress should debate these spending measures on their own merits and not as a part of an emergency funding bill for our troops.''

The White House insists that whatever the merits of individual items, they don't belong on legislation funding U.S. troops at war.

White House budget chief Rob Portman accuses Democrats of taking advantage of the war funding bill to slip money around tight GOP-set spending limits for the current budget year.

Democrats have already dropped much-mocked money for peanut and sugar beet farmers, U.S. Capitol tour guides, avocado and orange growers, spinach producers and grants to Denver and Minneapolis, the host cities of next year's political conventions.

But those provisions added up to just a pittance when compared to the overall $21 billion. Almost half of what's left is related to the battle against terrorism, including $4 billion above Bush's request for the Pentagon, almost $2 billion for health care for veterans and $2.3 billion for homeland security.

Bush and his GOP allies in Congress are expected to eventually concede to the extra Pentagon money, which goes for military housing, National Guard and Reserve equipment and mine-resistant vehicles.

Additional funding for medical care for veterans and active duty troops is politically bulletproof.

There's more doubt _ but ample precedent _ for add-ons like doubling Bush's $3.4 billion request for additional Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, and the homeland security money, which would buy items such as baggage screening machines and radiation detectors at border crossings.

The White House, however, is insistent on killing $3.5 billion in farm disaster aid, even though the money is supported by many Republicans and chiefly benefits GOP-leaning constituencies.

Democrats acknowledge the odds are lengthening for $400 million for low-income energy subsidies _ hardly a priority now that winter is over _ and $500 million in additional firefighting money for a Western fire season that's yet to start. Another $663 million to prepare for a possible bird flu epidemic also may be dropped, said House and Senate Democratic aides.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., described as ``nonsense'' Bush's statement about the spending being unnecessary and added, ``I don't think the American people would agree.''

Attracting particular criticism is a one-month extension of income subsidies aimed at those with small dairy farms. The cost of the extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract program is $31 million this year; but it has the effect of raising baseline funding for agriculture subsidies by $1.2 billion through 2012.

President Bush is used to getting his way on appropriations bills. For five years Bush has relied on GOP leaders such as former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to ride herd on the powerful Appropriations committees.

A year ago, for instance, House Republicans and Bush combined to drastically scale back almost $17 billion in Senate add-ons to a $94.5 billion to fund the Iraq war, Katrina relief and to combat bird flu. The battle delayed enactment of the bill until after Memorial Day.

``The president joined us in the fight a year ago and he's joining us in the fight again today,'' said House GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Lawmakers and aides in both parties cautioned that the situation is very fluid and difficult to predict. One school of thought holds that once a deal is reached on watered-down language regarding Iraq policy, a split-the-differences agreement on the added funding for other programs will snap together.