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House Passes Bill Increasing Funding for Balkans Conflict

By Guy Gugliotta and Juliet Eilperin

Barely a week after refusing to support the Balkans war, the Republican-led House Thursday more than doubled the Clinton administration’s funding request to pay for it, adding billions of dollars in new spending to refurbish what the GOP regards as the country’s weakened armed forces.

In contrast to the chaos that accompanied last week’s votes on Kosovo policy, the GOP leadership easily brushed aside a substantial number of potentially controversial amendments and shepherded Thursday’s $13.1 billion emergency spending bill to easy passage, by a bipartisan vote of 311 to 105.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., whose refusal to take a leadership role in last week’s debate helped sow confusion, spoke up in the first minutes Thursday, counseling colleagues not to view the emergency bill as a referendum on Clinton’s handling of the war. Instead. he said, it was a means to rejuvenate an armed forces “hollowed out” by six years of depleted budgets under Clinton’s stewardship.

“To my colleagues who disagree with the president’s policy, let me say simply, you had your vote last week,” Hastert said. “Now is the time to rise above the partisanship and vote for the good of the country.”

The $13.1 billion approved Thursday would come from surplus funds generated by the Social Security program in fiscal 1999. It is to be used to pay for the U.S. portion of NATO’s ongoing air war over Yugoslavia through Sept. 30.

The bill also funded a number of GOP military priorities, including $1.09 billion in military construction in Europe and the Middle East, and substantial increases in allocations for munitions, spare parts, maintenence, training, recruitment and retention.

The bill included a $1.8 billion increase in military pay and retirement benefits for fiscal 2000, and added $110 million in loan authority and incidental expenses to help America’s farmers.