House Republican leaders overcame earlier concerns and decided yesterday to give
President Bush most of the emergency war spending money he requested last month,
including $600 million for a compound in Baghdad that will be the largest U.S.
embassy in the world.
The leaders said they plan to approve all but $800 million of Bush's $81.9
billion request in emergency funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.
They cut back dramatically on the foreign aid portion of the request, because
they said some of the proposed spending was not for emergencies or was potentially
Rep. Jerry Lewis supports a new embassy in Baghdad.
The Republicans -- backing off many of their complaints about the size and vagueness
of the White House's request -- agreed to fund the project that had drawn the
most criticism: construction of the embassy in Iraq, which will have the largest
staff of any in the world.
Leaders attributed much of their willingness to grant Bush's request to an
impassioned presentation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the chambers
of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) late Wednesday afternoon.
In a nod to the conservatives who were most distressed about the cost of the
new compound, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.)
sliced a token $70 million from the request, leaving $592 million. The reduction
would mean a slight decrease in desks and housing, aides said.
"People had been holding the embassy up as a scalp -- a symbol,"
Lewis said in an interview. "But I don't want the supplemental to in any
way interrupt the peace process."
Lewis said Rice's presentation "caused many a head to turn."
Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said
after the Hastert meeting that the secretary of state had argued "that
it's an emergency war supplemental and that emergencies come from unexpected
events, good and bad."
The Republican leaders' recommendations for the emergency spending bill, totaling
$81.1 billion, were issued yesterday as a draft bill that will be taken up by
the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Final passage is expected this spring.
Lewis, who was appointed chairman of the appropriations panel by the GOP leadership
in January, said he is determined to apply pressure to stem the growth of federal
The money will pay for construction of a diplomatic compound that will include
housing, a cafeteria, office space and defense support facilities. The new compound
will help consolidate the 1,054 trailers in Iraq that house 3,693 employees
under State Department authority. Many of them are working in a former palace
of Saddam Hussein, with the ballrooms divided into thousands of plywood cubicle
House leaders said Rice assured them that the embassy could be built in 24
months, but that the money was needed up front to get contractors to bid because
of the danger involved. The United States has promised the Iraqi government
that it will vacate the palace.
The committee funded virtually all of the requests for defense but chopped
the money for foreign assistance from $5.6 billion to $3 billion. Most of the
trims came from reconstruction and democracy projects for Afghanistan, including
a law school, courthouses and industrial parks.
Although Republicans cut what they called "feel-good" items, they
left funds for police training and counternarcotics operations.
The foreign aid cuts included $400 million for two accounts that Republicans
derided as "State Department walking-around money." Lawmakers said
they will reconsider $200 million of that next week.
Despite such cuts, the committee kept the bottom line near Bush's initial figure
by using $1 billion that had been set aside for assistance to Turkey but not
When Bush delivered his supplemental budget request last month, Republicans
complained in hearings and interviews that it included many expenditures that
were not the result of an emergency.