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Some N.Y. Lawmakers Fear Promise on Disaster Relief Will Be Broken

Rebuilding: White House dispatches budget chief to Capitol Hill to try to ease their concerns.


WASHINGTON — With many New York lawmakers worried that the federal government could backslide on a promise of $20 billion in disaster relief after the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House budget chief came to Capitol Hill Thursday to assure them all of the money will arrive sooner or later.

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, also announced a new proposal to allow $2 billion in tax-exempt financing to help rebuild office buildings damaged or lost when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center.

But instead of being soothed by Daniels, some members of the congressional delegation were still seething afterward.

These critics pointed to the basic arithmetic of appropriations: So far, the administration has agreed to push only about a quarter of a $40-billion emergency fund--nearly $10 billion--toward cleanup and recovery in New York. In the days after the attack, senior New York lawmakers said they understood President Bush had promised at least twice that amount--$20 billion.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who attended the meeting. The White House, she charged, is "reneging on the original commitment for $20 billion out of the $40 billion [fund]. What they're saying is, 'Don't worry, you'll get it down the road.'

"But that makes it harder for us to get. We'll have a tin cup in our hand."

Other New Yorkers were not nearly as irate. And some had praise for the White House. Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer said the administration's commitment to help the city appears solid. "The money is there," he said.

Added another Democrat, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: "We have to make our case over and over again. But we're going to get it done."

The size and timing of the New York aid package are part of a high-stakes battle unfolding in Congress over funding for an array of emergency needs as the nation has gone to war against terrorists and seeks to defend itself against anthrax and other threats.

The administration is trying to contain emergency spending--for the rest of this year, at least--to a $40-billion fund Congress approved three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Next year, more emergency funds are likely to be appropriated for law enforcement, the military and disaster relief.

But in Congress, as in many other arenas, money in hand today is worth far more than the prospect of money tomorrow. And lawmakers are mindful that by next year, many pressing issues will be competing for funding at a time when the federal government is on the verge of slipping into deficit spending.

Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has warned New York lawmakers repeatedly that they should push to get all the money they can now.

Obey and Senate Democrats are also pushing for immediate expansion of the government's emergency funds by as much as $20 billion.

House appropriators expect to consider next week an emergency package proposed by the White House; it could become a vehicle for new funding. And Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Thursday outlined a proposal to spend $20 billion on bioterrorism prevention; food safety; new security measures for transportation systems, power plants and borders; and law enforcement.

Daschle said he wants the Senate to consider the measure as early as next week.

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