Pubdate: Sun, 18 Jun 2000
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2000 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Alan Fram - The Associated Press


WASHINGTON - Under Pentagon pressure, congressional leaders want to revive 
a stalled multibillion-dollar spending package for Colombia, U.S. 
peacekeepers in Kosovo and domestic disasters. They hope to pass it this month.

The House approved a $13 billion measure two months ago. It has languished 
in the Senate because of Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who said the 
bill was expensive and too time-consuming. The needs could be still be met, 
he argued, if Congress instead included the money in regular spending bills 
and passed them quickly.

Now, Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., would like to send the 
money, in a still undetermined amount, to President Clinton by June 30, 
when lawmakers are to begin a weeklong Fourth of July recess, say 
congressional aides from both parties, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

June 30 also is the day before the Army says it will have to start 
curtailing minor construction, civilian hiring and other activities unless 
it receives $1.5 billion the bill contains. Republicans do not want such 
cutbacks blamed on them, particularly in an election year.

A message Army headquarters recently sent field commanders demanded details 
on how they would save 8 percent of their budgets beginning July 1 if 
Congress did not quickly provide the money. Besides construction and hiring 
reductions, the letter suggested supply and maintenance cuts.

"Military prudence dictates we must plan now for the worst case," in which 
the money would not be provided until later this year, the message said.

The administration has been pressuring GOP leaders for weeks to act on the 
bill. Clinton said it is needed for "pressing national needs."

"It is an encouraging sign that, after many months, they now finally appear 
to be ready to make progress on these essential needs," White House budget 
office spokeswoman Linda Ricci said Friday.

Lott spokesman John Czwartacki said the bill would be addressed "sooner 
rather than later."

"The Clinton administration's actions, which have required a depletion in 
the Pentagon's budget, concern us greatly, and that's why Congress, like 
every year, will address the shortfall," Czwartacki said.

Czwartacki's reference was to Clinton's deployment of 5,900 U.S. troops to 
serve as peacekeepers in Kosovo, an action Congress never formally approved.

Clinton requested $5.2 billion at the beginning of this year, an amount 
that grew to $5.5 billion. Most is for helping fight drug producers in 
Colombia, which supplies most of the cocaine used in the United States; 
U.S. troops in Kosovo; and the costs of disasters including last 
September's Hurricane Floyd, which walloped North Carolina and other 
Eastern states.

The House approved its $13 billion version of the bill on March 30, pumping 
up the money Clinton sought for the Pentagon and domestic natural disasters 
and other projects at home.

Lott said he supported the money for Colombia, Kosovo and disasters, but 
said the measure was too costly and would take too much of the Senate's time.

Instead, he said the Senate would take pieces of the bill - but not all of 
it - and add them to several regular spending bills for fiscal 2001.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved three bills last month that 
include almost $9 billion for Kosovo, Colombia and disasters. Little has 
happened since.

Now, the Senate plans to debate one of those bills Tuesday, a $13.4 billion 
foreign aid bill containing $934 million for Colombia. The money is for 
training Colombian troops, buying helicopters and other purposes.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart