WASHINGTON (AP) - A Senate panel is poised to approve President Bush's request for more money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only after adding billions of dollars in hurricane aid for Mississippi and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast.
The moves by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is meeting Tuesday, are expected to lift the price tag for the legislation to more than $100 billion.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is pushing to boost significantly Bush's latest request for hurricane relief. Committee Democrats are set to win almost $4 billion in election-year agriculture disaster aid.
The bill generally grants Bush's $72 billion request for military operations, intelligence gathering and foreign aid related to the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan missions. It would boost his $19 billion request for hurricane relief by $4.6 billion.
Probably the most controversial add-on is $700 million to have the federal government purchase from CSX Transportation a Gulf Coast freight rail line in Mississippi. The line was heavily damaged by Katrina but has already been rebuilt with about $300 million in insurance proceeds.
Moving the line is an idea that well predates Katrina. The line crosses many north-south roads and is seen as an impediment to redevelopment. CSX is expected to use the money to enter into agreements with other railroads to use their lines and to pay for upgrading track. Mississippi is eyeing using the existing line to build a new east-west highway.
The underlying bill also boosts Bush's request for $4.2 billion in community development block grants by about $1 billion. Louisiana is expected to receive the bulk of the funds, which would generally go toward rebuilding houses and apartments destroyed or damaged by storm surges and levee breaks.
With hurricane season looming, the bill also contains $2 billion to repair and rebuild levees and other flood-control projects, which comes on top of $2 billion approved last year. The administration now acknowledges that earlier cost estimates proved too low and that almost $6 billion more will be needed.
On Iraq and Afghanistan, $67.8 billion goes to the Defense Department for operations and logistics, fuel, replacing equipment damaged by harsh conditions, supporting Iraqi forces and classified intelligence activities.