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House, Senate Push to Finish Bills With War, Airline Funds

By Helen Dewar and Juliet Eilperin
THE WASHINGTON POST -- washington

The House and Senate, eager to show support for American troops in combat, moved Thursday night toward approval of bills that provide nearly $80 billion to finance the war in Iraq, strengthen defenses against terrorism at home, and help financially troubled airlines.

United in financial support of the war effort even as they squabbled over funding for homeland security, the two houses appeared determined to work out differences in time to send the legislation to President Bush by the end of next week -- taking only three weeks to complete work that often takes three months or more.

A swift House-Senate conference is planned with the aim of final passage before Congress leaves next Thursday or Friday for a two-week spring recess, the deadline set by Bush for enactment of the measure.

As the bills moved toward passage, the Bush administration, backed by key Democrats, fended off two efforts by conservative Republicans to punish three traditional U.S. allies that they regard as obstacles to U.S. efforts to disarm and depose the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

After a contentious debate, the House voted 315-110 to reject a proposal by Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif., to remove $1 billion that the administration had requested for Turkey, which refused to allow the U.S. to invade Iraq from its territory, although it recently agreed to allow shipments of food, fuel and other nonmilitary supplies.

“There has to be some message sent to countries who endanger U.S. and allied soldiers,” Cunningham said.

“Turkey has stood by us for five decades,” responded Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. “They deserve a little leeway for that.”

In the Senate, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., proposed and then withdrew an amendment aimed at denying contracts for postwar reconstruction of Iraq to French and German companies and individuals, a response to the two countries’ opposition to military action against Baghdad. Ensign’s proposal had been opposed by the White House and State Department and drew scathing denunciations from Democrats.

The two countries should be barred from contracts because their behavior was “really quite despicable,” Ensign said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., responded that “if America is going to become an arrogant nation ... this is a good way to begin.”

A proposal to bar France, Germany, Russia, China and Syria from reconstruction contracts was still pending in the House as both chambers headed into Thursday night sessions to finish the bill.

The House and Senate spending bills give Bush slightly more than he sought when he submitted his request for more war and anti-terrorism funding early last week.