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FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2007
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Spending bill for Iraq war laced with state funding

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Struggling to shore up support for a war spending bill that calls for a withdrawal from Iraq next year, House Democrats have added a handful of Alabama sweeteners that would provide emergency funding for hurricane-damaged schools and local governments.

The bill totals some $124 billion, mostly for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it's loaded with spending for other projects across the country.

The most recent local addition would put Alabama on a list of Gulf Coast states that would get waivers for paying local and state matching requirements for federal disaster assistance from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"It means several hundred thousand dollars to us," said Bill Melton, Mobile County's environmental manager.

Melton said the Federal Emergency Management Agency already waived the county's 15 percent matching requirement for debris removal, which he said was the biggest cost. Still, he said, many smaller municipalities are struggling to come up with the match for other costs.

Despite the local goodies, the question of Iraq is an overriding factor for many lawmakers, particularly Republicans who have unified in opposition to war deadlines.

The bill, which Bush has threatened to veto, would require that combat troops be out of Iraq before September 2008, possibly sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks.

Friday vote

It is slated for a vote Friday morning, and Democratic leaders were scrambling to piece together enough votes for passage.

A spokesman for Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said the withdrawal language was a deal-breaker. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, issued a press release hailing the disaster relief for Alabama but said he still plans to oppose it.

"The underlying bill is still a bad bill and I intend to vote no," he said.

Rep. Bud Cramer, a conservative Democrat from Huntsville who has resisted timelines for Iraq, supported the bill in committee and worked to get the Alabama funding added as a member of the Appropriations Committee. But his office refused to say how he would vote on the final package.

Among other goodies, the state could get a share of $30 million slated to help local schools in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that were shut down for a month or more as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The money would be used for recruitment and retention incentives for teachers and other staff, as well as other "capacity building" work.

The bill also includes $120 million in aid for the Gulf Coast's fisheries industry.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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