WASHINGTON–DC (Reuters)–The US Congress plunged into work on Tuesday to send President George W. Bush money to finance the war in Iraq–as committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate considered a $75 billion emergency spending bill for the military and to reward allies. Plowing through amendmen’s–the House committee rejected on a voice vote an effort to remove $1 billion in aid to Turkey from the bill to show displeasure at Ankara’s refusal to allow US troops to deploy to Iraq from its soil.
The Senate was to take up the bill later on Tuesday–rushing to act on it before Congress’ Easter recess.
Two leading members of the House International Relations Committee had said on Monday that Congress should reduce a proposed $1 billion aid package for Turkey and include "performance standards” to ensure it cooperates with the United States as an ally.
Rep. Henry Hyde–an Illinois Republican who chairs the committee–and Rep. Tom Lantos of California–the committee’s top Democrat–said they wanted to "reshape” the White House proposal with a "modest reduction” in the funding–to release it in installmen’s–and with "performance standards relating to Turkey’s economic policies and its role as an ally.”
They said Turkey’s "recent activities have cause significant and justified consternation in Congress,” and that they "would have difficulty defending additional funding for Turkey on the House floor.”
But they also said they believe the United States "retains a strong interest in a politically and economically stable Turkey as an important element of peace in the several regions Turkey borders.”
Turkey had hoped for a $6 billion direct aid package from Washington that could be used to secure up to $24 billion in loans to bolster is stumbling economy. But Washington dropped that offer after the Turkish parliament refused on March 1 to open its bases to US troops for the war.
Bush sought the aid that could be used to leverage $8.5 billion in loans and loan guarantees in an effort to shore up shaky relations with Turkey and to keep it from sending troops into Northern Iraq where they might clash with Kurds.
He had offered $6 billion in direct aid–but withdrew that after the Turkish parliament refused on March 1 to open its bases to US troops to deploy to the war in neighboring Iraq.
"When my children do something intentionally bad–the last thing I do is increase their allowance,” said Rep. Randy Cunningham–a California Republican who pushed the amendment to remove the $1 billion in aid.
But other lawmakers said Turkey has been a solid ally and killing the aid would damage relations–putting at risk US efforts to open a northern front in Iraq or spurring Turkey to send troops into northern Iraq against US wishes.
The committee bill hinges the aid on the administration declaring that Ankara is cooperating in the war in Iraq.
The House committee also defeated an effort by Democrats to add $2.5 billion to tighten protections against terrorism in the United States to the $4.2 billion for that in the bill. Senate Democrats are expected to try to more than double the homeland security funds to some $9 billion.
Republicans were expected to move to attach a proposal worth about $3 billion in relief to the airlines that have seen business suffer as a result of the war.
The House committee’s bill would provide $62.5 billion to finance the war–but breaks the money into categories instead of offering the huge contingency fund the Pentagon sought. It includes $25 billion to meet unforeseen war costs–with the Pentagon to give Congress a week’s notice when money from the fund was to be spent.
Both Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees had complained that Bush was seeking a "blank check” that overrode Congress’ oversight of federal spending called for in the Constitution.
The bill would provide $4.9 billion in foreign aid to reward key allies in the Iraq war and in the global war on terrorism–slightly less than the $5.1 billion Bush sought.
Besides Turkey–the House panel’s bill provides $700 million in aid for Jordan–$300 million for Egypt and $127 million for Afghanistan–as Bush requested. Jordan–Egypt–Afghanistan–Israel and Pakistan also would share some $2 billion in assistance to their militaries.
It cuts by half the White House request for $200 million for outreach programs to the Middle East–saying the administration was trying to expand the programs too rapidly.
The House panel’s bill also would provide $2.5 billion toward reconstruction and relief for Iraq–up $40 million from the White House request. A number of lawmakers have said those costs likely will soar as the war unfolds.