As the House and Senate began hearings yesterday on the $74.7 billion supplemental spending measure that Bush requested Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats alike raised grave concerns about handing over vast sums of federal money without details about where it will go.
"I will support every dollar I can to help the troops and provide for their safety and to win the war, but to extend these limits to the extent that is being asked here - I think it's too much," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "Count me out when you ask for this additional flexibility."
Republicans, too, are voicing concerns about the degree of flexibility Bush has requested, which House Majority Leader Tom DeLay predicted Tuesday would be "highly controversial."
"The idea of allowing the president to transfer funds from one account to another without further reference to the Congress of the United States is unacceptable," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican and the chairman of the appropriations panel that funds foreign operations. "I would not be surprised if those provisions changed."
Under the measure, which covers the next six months, the Pentagon could spend a $59.9 billion "defense emergency reserve fund" however it sees fit, without first consulting Congress. The proposed legislation also would change the regular 2003 defense spending measure, enacted last fall, to give the department broad discretion over about $5 billion more in its previously appropriated budget.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told appropriators yesterday that the flexibility is critical to the Pentagon's ability to wage a war in which the length, the intensity of combat, the degree of destruction and the requirements for rebuilding are "not knowable."
The department needs "greater flexibility as to how that money is spent so we can adjust to the changing circumstances," Rumsfeld said. "With so many unknowns, the administration clearly needs some flexibility."
Bush also requested broad latitude for other federal agencies to decide how to spend $4.3 billion in homeland security resources, including $1.5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $500 million for the Justice Department.
"It's just stuck there in their counterterrorism account," said Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican and the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department. "I don't know where it's going, and I don't think they know where it's going. We need more clarity."
"Is it going to prove out over the coming months?" Rumsfeld said of the $74.7 billion request. "I don't know. Do we believe it is the best possible estimate at the current time? Yes."
But many appropriators said the figures are far too low.
Kolbe noted the $2.53 billion allocated in the measure for relief and postwar reconstruction in Iraq. "It seems inconceivable to me that a country of this size, this scope, this infrastructure that the request would be sufficient," he said. "It's quite probable that there would be another supplemental," Kolbe added
Democrats are pushing to include more money in the spending bill for homeland security. Rep. David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, unveiled a comprehensive proposal yesterday to do so, calling for $8.2 billion more than the amount Bush requested, for a total of $12.3 billion.