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Democrats fight to increase war budget

By
P. MITCHELL PROTHERO

WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- Congressional Democrats said Wednesday that they hope to increase the supplemental war budget request to cover additional homeland security spending.

The House and Senate plan on voting Thursday on the $75 billion package to finance the war in Iraq, but Democrats want more funds for first responders to domestic terror attacks.

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Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said the Senate package -- which has already been increased from $75 billion to $78.7 billion -- needs additional spending for homeland security and first responders such as firefighters and police officers.

"We feel very strongly about the importance of providing the necessary resources in a number of different ways to needs related to homeland security," Daschle told reporters Wednesday. "The first responders amendment is one of our key amendments.

"It provides for additional assistance for overtime, for personnel, for communications equipment, for all of the things that are so badly needed, that police chiefs and fire chiefs and others have indicated to us is so critical to them right now."

That amendment is expected to cost $4.8 billion, and it is unclear if Republicans will support it. But Democrats have put the GOP in a difficult position: voting against increasing funding to protect homeland security and paying firefighters and police the additional overtime the "Code Orange" terror alert has cost local governments.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had previously said that he would fight to keep the total as close to the president's $74.7 billion request as possible.

But Daschle said the need for more spending was obvious. He charged that a blank check policy for the White House to spend money without specific approval of Congress was irresponsible.

"There's a constitutional responsibility that we hold very seriously, which is that we ought to have the opportunity to make delineations, make authorization," he said. "And we want to find the right balance. Obviously, we have to deal with unexpected contingencies, and we want to give them flexibility -- and I think the supplemental attempts to provide the balance. I think it still provides more balance for them than they probably need."

At the same time as the preparations for the supplemental are under way, negotiators for the White House, Senate and House met Wednesday to discuss how to reconcile the House and Senate budget plans for fiscal year 2004. The Senate version chopped the president's proposed tax cut of over $700 billion by more than half, while the GOP-controlled House left it intact.

While no agreement has been reached on the final version -- which still requires approval from both houses -- White House officials concede that getting the full tax cut proposal through Congress is unlikely due to the Senate vote.

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