TOPICS > Politics

The Cost of War

May 19, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now to the second congressional battle. It’s over money for the Kosovo bombing campaign, plus related and unrelated matters. Again, Kwame Holman reports.

SPOKESMAN: Members will clear the well and clear the aisles.

KWAME HOLMAN: Unlike the annual spending bills which Congress must squeeze in under preset budget caps, the emergency supplemental bill gives members a chance to write a legislative blank check. Congress may spend any amount for items it deems emergencies, and most members agree certain recent events qualify.

REP. BILL YOUNG, Chairman, Appropriations Committee: Whether you approve of what’s happening in the Balkans or not, the truth of the matter is that American forces are fighting a war in and over Kosovo and Serbia. And that war is very expensive.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, (R) Florida: We must not forget that in our own hemisphere our neighbors in central America have undergone a humanitarian crisis of their own, one caused by a hurricane, which ravaged their homes and wiped out entire communities.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last night, with the support of a majority of Republicans and Democrats, the House of Representatives easily approved $14.6 billion in emergency spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. Most of the money is to be used to pay for the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, to assist and relocate the Kosovar refugees, to replenish depleted stocks of munitions, for maintenance and spare parts, and for a military pay raise. There also is money for the Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch, money to repair tornado damage in Oklahoma and Kansas, and money for farmers hurt by low commodity prices.

REP. TONY HALL, (D) Ohio: Mr. Speaker, there is something for everyone in this massive spending bill. If you like the bill, you can find critical programs that are funded. If you don’t like the bill, you can find wasteful spending and harmful cuts.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars were added to the bill for programs some members said didn’t meet their definition of an emergency.

MEMBER OF CONGRESS: Things like libraries in Germany, a dormitory in the District of Columbia, a road in Bahrain, ATM’s on ships.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO, (D) Oregon: Money for fish in Alaska, money for reindeer. I mean, is Santa in trouble? Something stinks, and I guess that’s why this bill includes $2.2 million for sewers in Salt Lake City for the Olympics. That’s an emergency.

KWAME HOLMAN: Money set aside but not expected to be spent for food stamps and housing programs will be used instead to pay for a small portion of the emergency supplemental bill. But the most of the funds will come directly out of the current federal budget surplus.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, (R ) California: And it will come right out of the hide of Social Security and Medicare reform, right out of any effort to modestly reduce the tax burden on our people.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate is scheduled to vote on the emergency spending bill tomorrow. Last week, negotiators from both chambers met in a conference committee to work out differences in their respective versions of the legislation. Most of that was accomplished easily, but a standoff developed between two of the most powerful members of Congress and provided the kind of congressional drama seldom seen on prime-time television.

SPOKESMAN: Lest not play Republican versus craft, which you’ve been doing all day long.

KWAME HOLMAN: For the first time ever, the appropriations conference was broadcast live on C-Span. Senate appropriators sat on one side of the room, House appropriators on the other. Throughout their first 12-hour session on Wednesday, the negotiators systematically traded off spending priorities until the House and Senate versions of the emergency bill were nearly identical. Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, waited patiently. His proposal to appropriate $150 million in loan guarantees for small steel companies hurt by a foreign steel imports already had Senate approval. Around midnight, Byrd tried to sell it to the House.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D) West Virginia: That’s why it’s called an emergency supplemental. That’s why I put this amendment on here, because it’s an emergency involving the steel companies in this country.

KWAME HOLMAN: House Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania added his support.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D) Pennsylvania: It’s the most productive steel industry in the world. But when you have subsidized imports flooding into the country, there’s no way we can save it. Well, I would appeal to the members, this is as much an emergency in the United States as the Kosovo thing is overseas.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Byrd amendment was the first big challenge for the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Bill Young of Florida. The 15-term Republican was well aware of Senator Byrd’s legendary success securing appropriations for his home state of West Virginia.

REP. BILL YOUNG: You have been an inspiration, and you have been an outstanding public servant. And you have been very, very successful in getting your way. And I applaud you for that, because the rest of us would like to be as successful in you in taking care of our states in our districts.

KWAME HOLMAN: The new chairman, however, told Byrd his loan guarantee proposal could cause the entire emergency spending bill to collapse.

REP. BILL YOUNG: And I know you don’t like to hear this, but if this language goes into the bill, there are those in the House who will defeat this bill. And I have a letter from the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and it’s signed by most of the members, at least on the Republican side. I have a similar letter from the chairman of the Banking Committee. Both of these members claim jurisdiction on this issue. If you add up all of the members on those committees and they vote against this bill, we have wasted two days here, plus all of the time that all of us have worked to prepare ourselves for this conference.

KWAME HOLMAN: Byrd didn’t budge.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Now, I’m not in the position to drop anything. My conscience is clear on this.

KWAME HOLMAN: It was now Thursday morning, and Senator Pete Domenici, Republican from New Mexico, complicated matters further by pressing for a similar loan program for small oil and gas companies.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R) New Jersey : What’s happening in oil patch is the independent producers are going bankrupt, the service industries are laying off workers, counties are being reduced in population because oil prices are low.

SPOKESMAN: Clerk will call the roll.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House appropriators voted on the two amendments in succession. Despite Chairman Young’s warning, Ohio’s Ralph Regula, head of the congressional steel caucus, and two other Republicans sided with ten Democrats, and the Byrd proposal was adopted by the House.

SPOKESMAN: On this vote, the ayes are 13, the nays are ten, and the amendment is agreed to. Are we prepared to vote on the amendment offered by Senator Domenici?

KWAME HOLMAN: On the next vote, party loyalty again took a back seat, as all 13 House Republicans voted against the Domenici proposal for oil and gas loan guarantees.

REP. BILL YOUNG: The yeas are nine, the no’s are 13, so the amendment is not agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: It was nearing 1:00 In the morning, and the conference was now deadlocked. Senate appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska suggested the House reconsider its vote on Domenici, because the Senate would not.

SEN. TED STEVENS, (R) Alaska: Again, I think you are going to see the Senate stands by these two provisions.

REP. BILL YOUNG: Senator, I think that tomorrow we will convene at the call of the chair. I think that everybody gets a good night’s rest, and we’ll be able to resolve our differences, at the point the committee will stand adjourned in the until the call of the chair tomorrow.

KWAME HOLMAN: It was, in fact, later that afternoon when the conferees met again.

SPOKESMAN: Conference will please come to order.

REP. BILL YOUNG: Senator, I trust you had a good night’s sleep last night.

SPOKESMAN: Mr. Chairman, I made a speech this morning at 8:00. I was thinking of you then.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the time since the conferees last met, the resolve of House Chairman Bill Young and his negotiators had stiffened. Two of the three Republicans who had voted to approve the Byrd amendment hours earlier now were ready to change their vote and defeat the measure. Chairman Young explained why.

REP. BILL YOUNG: Speaker Hastert has given me this authority to say to you that he would allow a vote to come on the issue of a freestanding bill dealing with your issue at a very early opportunity. Mr. Regula has already agreed introduce that bill. He’ll do that tomorrow.

KWAME HOLMAN: Byrd, as always, was philosophical about his change of fortune.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Let me say this, the American people are aware of what we’re all doing here. And I’m sure that I don’t have to remind my colleagues of that. If they’ve watching this vote – and I may not live to see it, but there will be a change when on this hill. I’ve seen those changes. The tide flows in, and it ebbs and it goes out.

KWAME HOLMAN: The participants understood they had accomplished all they could under the glare of the television lights and cameras, and chairman young suggested a smaller group reached an agreement behind closed doors. The amendments proposed by Senators Byrd and Domenici would be brought before each chamber within the next few weeks in a separate emergency spending bill. Last night, as the full House moved toward a final vote on the nearly $15 billion emergency spending bill, one member accused the conferees of having worked out the spending decisions in the dark of night. Chairman Bill Young sarcastically said he agreed with that sentiment.

REP. BILL YOUNG: Yes, we did. We worked all day, and we worked all night to resolve the many differences that existed between the House and the Senate. But in the conference room, it was very bright. It was very bright because the television cameras were in that room to record every word that was said in a live procedure. So the truth of the matter is, while it might have been dark on the clock, anybody that wanted to watch the television was able to see everything said and done, and that was a first.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, some committee members grumbled about the uninterrupted television coverage of their dealings. House and Senate appropriators say they’ll reevaluate their policy.