KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee approved more than $11 billion in emergency money to fund U.S. participation in NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. Debate on the funding, however, was overshadowed by a vote last night on the House floor in which a Democratic-sponsored resolution in support of those air strikes was rejected, primarily due to Republican opposition.
REP. JOHN MURTHA, D-PA: I was embarrassed that, on the floor of the House yesterday, that we did not vote to support this air campaign. I mean, that embarrassed me personally because I think we made a mistake. I don't think we should be second guessing the president.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Appropriations Committee is considered among the least partisan in Congress, but today Democrats expressed some hard feelings in front of their Republican colleagues.
REP. DAVID OBEY, D-WI: I find it mind-boggling that some of the same members who yesterday voted against the operation will today, here, now, vote to more-than-double the amount of spending that the president has asked for to conduct those operations. I think that is spectacularly inconsistent.
KWAME HOLMAN: During yesterday's nearly ten hours of debate focused exclusively on Kosovo, the House first voted on three Republican resolutions, and in succession, required the president get congressional approval before deploying ground troops to the Balkans, rejected a call to remove all U.S. troops currently in the region, and rejected a formal declaration of war against Yugoslavia by a near-unanimous vote. Today, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said those combined votes sent out confusing signals.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: You wind up with three votes. "We don't want to go to war." "We don't want to pull out the troops." And "if you're going to use troops, we want you to have a vote." Now what message does that send? We thought it made sense to say something at the end of all of that that sent a clear message that the Congress of the United States is at least behind what we are now doing with 19 other NATO countries.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gephardt admitted he thought his party's resolution of support for the air strikes would pass easily. It had passed the Senate a month ago with a comfortable bipartisan margin. But last night's vote turned out to be tight; the debate, contentious.
REP. NORM DICKS, D-WA: I have had an opportunity to go over to the Pentagon to see how the air war is doing, and it's becoming very effective. And so I think there's a lot of hand-wringing here that is premature. I think we ought to give the air war additional time to work. I think we are weakening Mr. Milosevic, and I think there is still a prospect that we may achieve our objective.
REP. RANDY CUNNINGHAM, R-CA: The Pentagon told the president -- told the president -- and I know every one of them by their first names, and I fought in combat with most of them -- told the president not to do this, that it would only cause more problems, and that's what we have done. There was a little over 2,000 people killed in Kosovo prior to the bombing. NATO and the United States have killed more Albanians than the Serbs have in the year prior.
KWAME HOLMAN: The final vote was a 213-tie, a defeat for the resolution. Gephardt blamed the Republican leadership, charging they had acted irresponsibly.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I'm not saying anybody can't vote anyway they want. That's the way the place works, it's the way it ought to work. But to have a whip operation trying to get people to vote against this is not the way this place should operate in my opinion.
KWAME HOLMAN: In an off-camera response today, Tom DeLay, the House Republican whip, called the charge a joke, and said the minority leader was covering for the 26 Democrats who also voted no. Speaker Dennis Hastert said members simply voted their consciences. Hastert himself voted for the resolution. This afternoon, Appropriations Chairman Bill Young used the pending vote on emergency military spending to diffuse the political tension.
REP. C. W. BILL YOUNG, Chairman, Appropriations Committee: Mr. Obey mentioned what kind of message did Milosevic get last night on the rather frustrated votes that we had. I'm not sure what he got from that, but I can guarantee you when we pass this bill today there will be no doubt in the mind of Mr. Milosevic where we stand.
KWAME HOLMAN: The bill passed this afternoon by a voice vote.