WASHINGTON, April 7 (UPI) -- U.S. House and Senate negotiators Monday began working to reconcile their versions of the war budget passed last week. Congress has promised to send a final version of the nearly $80 billion spending package to the president by week's end.
Because the House and Senate passed different versions of the supplemental budget request -- which will pay for military action in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the two bills need to be reconciled by a conference committee.
At the same time, White House officials are using the negotiations to remove some amendments added by lawmakers that the Bush administration opposes. These include House-added amendments that removed aid request for Turkey and a requirement that limits contracts for post-war Iraq to companies from countries that participated in the coalition.
When he made the original $74.9 billion budget request to Congress, President Bush warned that lawmakers should keep spending to a minimum and to have the final version completed before April 11, when Congress recesses for two weeks.
That deadline is almost sure to be met as both the house and Senate overwhelmingly approved the different versions of the spending bill last week. Despite ongoing arguments over some provisions, congressional staff indicated that a final agreement was likely.
"I don't think there's much desire by either side to fail to deliver money for a war, while fighting is still going on," said one Senate leadership aide.
The portions of the bill unlikely to be in much dispute are $62 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as over $1 billion for intelligence operations worldwide that pertain to the war on terror.
The bill includes about $8 billion for immediate Iraqi reconstruction and foreign aid. The House modified the foreign aid from the administration's request by removing $1 billion in aid for Turkey.
That amendment's sponsor -- Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif. -- said that because Turkey had refused to allow U.S. troops to stage a ground assault on northern Iraq from its borders, the country should not be rewarded despite protests from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that the aid was needed.
The administration circulated a letter shortly before the vote that said Turkey was a critical ally in post-war Iraq and that its troops had served alongside Americans in multiple theaters of war prior to action in Iraq.
House leaders and administration officials believe that the provision will be removed in conference.
Also in dispute is a House amendment that bars non-coalition countries from receiving contracts from the U.S. government to rebuild post-war Iraq. But as the administration attempts to undo diplomatic damage done in the pre-war debate, the White House wants to retain maximum flexibility to offer contracts to allies.
While the Senate did not add diplomatically sensitive amendments, it did offer a $3 billion bailout to domestic air carriers that the White House has already described as "excessive." Officials have said they intend to reduce this amount of money given to the airlines -- as it would be the second major aid package since Sept. 11, 2001 -- but it remains unclear if they have the votes to accomplish the removal.