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US Congress Weighs Approval of Iraq War Funding Bill - 2003-04-12

Congressional lawmakers are moving toward expected approval of a nearly $80 billion funding bill to pay for the initial costs of the war in Iraq. House and Senate negotiators have been meeting to reconcile separate versions of the legislation already passed by both houses of Congress.

President Bush proposed about $75 billion to pay for the initial costs of the war to disarm Iraq.

He asked that the legislation not be loaded with additional spending not directly related to the war in Iraq.

But as is their tendency, House and Senate lawmakers did just that adding what is commonly referred to on Capitol Hill as "pork" or extraneous spending.

Now expected to total about $80 billion when approved in final form by House and Senate, the bill is expected to include about three billion dollars to help financially-strained U.S. airlines.

It is also likely to include additional money on top of the figure proposed by the president, to improve security at U.S. borders and ports, and funds for security modifications at airports.

The Pentagon is to receive about $62 billion to pay initial costs of U.S. military forces in the coalition in Iraq.

Another $2.5 billion would go for Iraq's reconstruction.

As lawmakers tried to narrow differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd insisted on language that would require the Bush administration to keep Congress fully informed.

"Congress needs to know the administration's plans for the money, as well as for the many billions the administration will request in future years, and it may be future administrations will still be in the business of requesting money for this purpose, to address the multitude of problems in postwar Iraq," he said.

Mr. Byrd's language requires periodic presidential reports to Congress dealing with post-conflict security, humanitarian aid, governance, and reconstruction.

The bill also includes economic support funds and other aid for U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Pakistan to help them with Iraq-related costs, or needs related to the war on terrorism.

Earlier congressional debate featured often heated exchanges over U.S. assistance to Turkey because of Ankara's refusal to allow U.S. ground forces to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory.

One dispute was over how much control the Pentagon should have in spending the money. Senator Byrd led those opposed to an administration request that the Pentagon be able to decide how to spend almost all of the money budgeted to it, saying this would weaken congressional authority.

The funding bill pays for Iraq-related costs only for the current fiscal year. Administration officials have said it's likely Congress will be asked to approve additional funds, as needs dictate.

Although Democrats and Republicans were united in support of U.S. troops in Iraq, there was politically-charged debate over domestic priorities, with minority Democrats pressing majority Republicans to increase spending for homeland security and criticizing the administration on the economy.