Cochran (left) says bill is $1.6 billion less than White House request Hutchison (right) says $1.1-billion military construction section excludes non-emergency projects (Photo by Senate
Appropriations Committee)

The Senate Appropriations Committee has cleared an $80.6-billion emergency supplemental spending bill that includes $592 million for a new U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. If the full Senate goes along, its version of the bill would have to be reconciled with the House's, which bars spending money on the embassy project. The committee's measure could come to the Senate floor as early as April 11, an aide said.

The Senate committee's bill, approved 28-0 on April 6, did pare the Bush administration's request for the Baghdad project by $66 million, or 10%. In a draft report to accompany the bill, the panel said, "In planning for the construction of this embassy, the Dept. of State has relied on several optimistic planning factors: first, a construction workforce of 2,000 personnel, laboring in a permissive security environment, will be able to complete construction within 24 months; second, projected mission staffing levels will approximate those needed for current operations and conditions; and, third, that the square footage and acreage required for the embassy compound should be commensurate with wartime staffing levels."

Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) noted that the legislation's total funding represents a cut of about $1.4 billion from the amount President Bush requested and a $933-million reduction from the supplemental bill the House passed in March.

Of the bill's $80.6-billion total, $74.4 billion would go to the Defense Dept., primarily for expenses related to the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The defense section of the bill includes about $1.1 billion for military construction. Most of that work is in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there are some domestic projects, too, including $47 million for site preparation and utility work at Fort Bliss in Texas; $31 million for an aircraft maintenance hanger at Fort Wainwright, Alaska; and $30.5 million for enlisted personnel quarters at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The administration had sought about $1.4 billion for military construction in the supplemental bill, but Senate appropriators "scrubbed it very carefully," said Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who chairs the military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee. Lawmakers ended up trimming the request by about $220 million. "The criteria for us was 'emergency or not'," Hutchison said.

In other action of interest to construction, the appropriators defeated an amendment proposed by Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who wanted to establish a special Senate committee to deal with war and reconstruction contracting. His proposal was defeated 15-13, on a party-line vote.

The committee did add $34 million requested by panel member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to repair roads, trails and facilities in national forests in her state that were damaged by winter floods.The bill also has $103 million in Agriculture Dept. funds for disaster-recovery work including stabilizing stream banks, removing sediment and building temporary floodwalls and sediment storage basins.

In addition, the bill provides $8.1 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to speed upgrades to its seismic monitoring and information delivery systems. That includes replacing what the committee termed "outdated detection and notification systems" at the National Earthquake Information Center, Golden, Colo.; and expanding the center's operations to a 24/7 system.