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Bush Feels Pressure for More Disaster Funds

Politics: Despite his pleas for fiscal prudence, many on Capitol Hill want to exceed the $40-billion allotment. Daschle calls an increase a sure thing.


WASHINGTON — Despite President Bush's efforts to keep a lid on the budget until next year, pressure is growing on Capitol Hill to go beyond the $40 billion in emergency funding lawmakers approved three days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Congressional Democrats and some influential Republicans are pushing on multiple fronts to raise spending for New York disaster aid, military operations and homeland security.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Wednesday he is "100% certain" that Congress will exceed the $40-billion sum before it wraps up this year--even though billions of dollars from that pool has yet to be spent.

And Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, also has signaled that he is open to raising the ante. Young's position is critical; his committee is expected to move within the next several days on a White House proposal to allocate some emergency funds.

Heightening the tension over funding is the possibility that urgent priorities--rebuilding New York City, thwarting terrorist plots, beefing up public health, supporting U.S. military action in Afghanistan--could be pitted against one another if the total pool of money available remains unchanged.

"There's huge concern," said Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.), a member of the Appropriations Committee. He and others in the New York congressional delegation are fighting to preserve what they regard as a firm commitment of at least $20 billion for recovery in New York and other areas affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Listen, we recognize that there are other substantial, significant priorities. But we also know that it shouldn't be expected that all of these other priorities are going to be paid for on the backs of New Yorkers," he said.

The delegation plans to give that pointed message today to White House Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. in a meeting on Capitol Hill.

Bush, though, has been widely praised by New Yorkers for endorsing billions of dollars in aid to the city without hesitation after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and heavily damaged many blocks of the surrounding financial district. But on Wednesday, the president renewed his plea for fiscal restraint even as the federal government races to respond to threats at home and abroad.

"I caution the Congress not to overspend," Bush said in a speech here to business leaders. "The temptation is to fund everybody's good idea. And my attitude is that our money ought to be focused and effective."

In a meeting Wednesday at the White House, congressional leaders told Bush they are feeling heat from many quarters to raise spending, said an aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). Bush, according to the Gephardt aide, responded that he might be open to spending more this year to counter bioterrorism threats but has not yet made up his mind.

So far, the administration has spent $8.8 billion of the $40 billion Congress approved: more than $5.3 billion for the Defense Department, $2.5 billion for New York and the rest for law enforcement and other terror-related activities.

It also has sent Congress a detailed proposal on how to spend $20 billion more from the emergency fund. That proposal, which requires another congressional vote of approval, includes an additional $7.4 billion for defense and $6.3 billion for New York's recovery.

Administration officials have asserted repeatedly that these funds should suffice for the rest of the year, though it is widely assumed they will ask for more emergency money in 2002. The administration also is seeking to hold Congress to an agreement that ordinary discretionary spending will not exceed $686 billion in the current fiscal year.

But senior members of Congress are saying more must be spent--and soon. Anxious New Yorkers want billions more for rebuilding subways, repairing damaged utilities and roads, removing debris, stabilizing the city's economy and paying overtime for city personnel. Defense hawks are quietly complaining that the Pentagon's budget--about $343 billion for fiscal 2002--still has not been rewritten to reflect the costly new war on terrorism.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is proposing to spend $20 billion to improve security and national infrastructure in legislation to bolster the economy. And Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the House's ranking Democrat on appropriations, is culling a list of about $18 billion worth of priorities he has gathered from talking with federal agencies.

Three examples of priorities Obey cited Wednesday: Amtrak has asked for $500 million to bolster rail security; the Customs Service has asked for $700 million to overhaul port facilities and hire additional agents to help hunt down foreign terrorists; and the FBI has asked for $1.5 billion to cover overtime. "These and many other items indicate the fact that we have much work to do in the area of securing the homeland," Obey told the House.

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