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Negotiators Expect an Easy Conference on Supplemental

After working late into Thursday night to pass wartime spending bills, House and Senate negotiators must quickly reconcile the legislation to meet the White House-requested deadline.

Conferees, led by House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.), will begin merging the almost $80 billion in measures next week in the hopes of sending a bill to President Bush by April 11, when Congress begins the spring recess.

Young met with Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on Friday to discuss the supplemental, House committee spokesman John Scofield said. They both agree it is very important to complete work by the end of next week, which should be possible as none of the differences are “show-stoppers,” he said.

The House bill totaled almost $78 billion while the Senate measure rose to more than $79 billion, but the biggest difference is not over spending levels.

For example, the chambers disagree on how to disperse emergency aid to the ailing airline industry.

The House would reimburse airlines for security costs incurred as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and extend the Federal Aviation Administration insurance program for 10 years.

The Senate package, however, would provide some direct security reimbursement to airlines and airports while temporarily suspending airline security fees. It would also provide $225 million in unemployment benefits and extend war-risk insurance for one year at a total cost of $3.5 billion.

Bush’s original $75 billion supplemental request — to cover war costs and ongoing anti-terrorism operations — included nothing for the airlines.

In fact, the White House has called the Congressional packages “excessive.”

On Thursday, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said of the airline assistance provisions: “The White House did not come forward with a number, and I’m not getting into a fight with the White House on it. It is really up to the Congress.”

Another key difference is whether to punish countries who do no support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The Senate ultimately declined to do so, while the House adopted an amendment that would bar French, Russian, German and Syrian companies from winning contracts to reconstruct Iraq after hostilities cease.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage penned a letter to Congressional leaders advising them not to seek retribution, and Democrats agreed with the White House position during debate.

Both bills would appropriate the bulk of funds — $62.4 billion — to military and intelligence operations.

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