Congress giving Bush less leeway over war funds

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress is balking at giving President Bush the unfettered control he wants over money for the war with Iraq and the global confrontation with terrorism.

The House and Senate Appropriations committees planned to write separate versions of the spending package on Tuesday. Both were ready to provide Bush with far less flexibility than he sought in the $74.7 billion proposal he sent lawmakers last week.

The two Republican-controlled chambers were racing to complete work on the package by April 11, the target set by Bush.

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Both committees were expected to produce bills close to the president's price tag. The Senate was planning to add about $2 billion for the country's financially ailing airlines, and the House was considering including similar aid.

Both panels were planning to clamp tighter congressional controls on the money than the president requested. Bush proposed giving the White House, Defense Department and other agencies wide leeway in deciding precisely how to spend much of the money, a prerogative that members of both parties in Congress usually protect jealously.

Of the $62.6 billion that Bush included in his request for the Pentagon, he proposed giving Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld broad discretion over $59.9 billion. For example, $53.4 billion could be used by Rumsfeld ''for military operations in Iraq and the global war on terrorism.''

Instead, aides said the House bill - subject to last-minute changes - would assign more than half that money to specific military accounts, based on information the White House has provided to the Appropriations Committee. The administration could control the rest of the money, but would have to notify lawmakers of its plans in advance and provide regular reports afterward.

''We're not going to tie their hands. We'll give them the flexibility they need to fight this war,'' said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.

The Senate was also expected to provide much of the money for specific accounts, and give the administration more flexibility over the rest.

The administration also proposed creating several smaller funds it would control, such as one giving the president $150 million for handling ''complex foreign crises.'' The House bill would not create that fund.

The House and Senate bills were also expected to change other details. For example, Young said he was working with New York lawmakers on a way their city, considered a high-risk terrorist target, could be ensured of getting funds, rather than leaving the decision to the administration's discretion.

Aides said congressional Democrats considered the limits on Bush's proposed powers to control the funds steps in the right direction. They were expected to propose spending more than the $3.5 billion Bush requested for the Department of Homeland Security.

''While the president's long-awaited request for Homeland Security funding is a start, it is only a start, and Democrats will continue to work this week to ensure that we are doing everything necessary to make America more secure,'' said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The Senate's aid for airlines was expected to include funds for installation of reinforced cockpit doors and government-backed war risk insurance.