House panel boosts defense spending in supplemental

By Peter Cohn, CongressDaily

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to boost military spending by $1.8 billion in President Bush's $81.9 billion fiscal 2005 war supplemental while cutting about $1.5 billion in foreign aid provisions.

Foreign aid requests the committee plans to pare back range from $400 million in funds for unspecified allies in the war on terrorism to $45 million in debt relief for tsunami-ravaged Indian Ocean countries, according to sources familiar with the plan.

Appropriators also have trimmed by 10 percent the White House's request for $658 million in construction funds for a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The embassy funds have been a major point of contention between lawmakers and the administration since the request was submitted.

Appropriators responded to the concerns of Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten and other administration officials that the embassy funds needed to be granted or else the construction contracting process could not begin. But in a nod to conservatives, they nicked about $66 million from the request, the sources said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., has tried to accommodate the concerns of House GOP leaders and conservatives in whittling down Bush's foreign aid request.

At the same time, Lewis has responded to the concerns of defense hawks by boosting the president's request for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and military construction to about $76.7 billion.

Those increases will go largely to Army and Marine Corps force-protection measures, such as night-vision goggles, jammers and armor kits.

Lewis' moves on foreign aid have drawn initial praise, but some Republicans are indicating more cuts might be needed.

"There is a fundamental philosophical difference in the definition of emergency spending" between conservatives and the White House, said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee.

Appropriators cut from the request $600 million for Afghanistan reconstruction activities, including $25 million each for construction of an airport in Kabul and for establishment of a law school.

They also cut the $400 million to support coalition allies, out of fear the fund was too open-ended.

Also cut was $150 million in food aid for the Darfur region of Sudan and Chad, but additional funds of almost $200 million are provided for Sudan. That does not include peacekeeping funds for Sudan and other countries, for which appropriators would provide $580 million -- minus $200 million requested by the White House, mainly for Liberia.

The Appropriations Committee decided to include several controversial items criticized in recent weeks, including $200 million for the new Palestinian leadership, $200 million for Jordan and $150 million for Pakistan.

But those and other items would be offset through rescissions of other foreign assistance funds for a net reduction of $2.2 billion from the $3.9 billion requested by the White House in programs under the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.