House bills could provide up to $7.7B in cash, waivers

Published 4:58 pm Friday, March 30, 2007

The war spending bill that the U.S. House has passed, which calls for a pullout of troops from Iraq by March of 2008, could mean some $7.7 billion for areas hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, House Democrats said Thursday.

Asked during a telephone news conference if it was a mistake to tie that money to a bill that President Bush has vowed to veto, Rep. Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville said it was the only legislative vehicle available.

“This was the only train that was leaving the station,” Melancon said.

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The House version of the bill could bring $6.4 billion in cash and almost $1.3 billion more in forgiven loans to the region.

A Senate version passed Thursday included more than $3 billion for hurricane recovery and other projects in Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a news release.

Both bills include target deadlines for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, and Bush has said he will veto any bill with such a requirement. He also has criticized both bills for including domestic projects.

Asked if there was a “Plan B” in case of veto, Melancon said that would be dealt with if the bill is vetoed.

“There’s a lot of room for movement,” said Rep. Bill Jefferson of New Orleans said during Thursday’s Democratic teleconference.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was critical of Democrats passing “this veto-bound bill right before it heads home for April recess.” Vitter said the Pentagon needed the additional funding by April 15.

“The withdrawal language in this bill will hurt our effort in Iraq and will lead to this bill’s veto by the president, delaying much needed funding for both our troops in the field and hurricane recovery,” Vitter said in a news release.

Both bills include $1.3 billion for levee work.

Early in March, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it wanted to move that amount from work on east bank levees to shore up dangerously low levees on the west bank, which remained largely free of floods after Hurricane Katrina.

“My comment to them was, ‘You’re going to be leaving both sides in harm’s way,’” Melancon said.

The House bill also includes $37 million for hurricane and coastal restoration in Mississippi, and almost $1.3 billion in disaster loan forgiveness — $1 billion in Louisiana and $270 million in Mississippi.

The House majority whip’s office, which released a list of hurricane spending bills, did not have state-by-state totals, spokeswoman Kristie Greco said.

Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, Rep. Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on housing and community opportunity, Jefferson and Melancon described the bills in the half-hour teleconference.

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