$50 Billion More for Wars

The Senate is ready to give President Bush $50 billion more for wars, even as public support for the Iraq fighting is slipping, the number of U.S. casualties is climbing and Congress is growing frustrated with the conflict's direction.

The money, part of a $445 billion military spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1, would pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would push the war total beyond $350 billion since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Senate GOP leaders had hoped to vote on the bill yesterday so they could adjourn for a 10-day recess, but Sen. Mary Landrieu forced a one-day delay.

The Louisiana Democrat spent much of the evening arguing that the Senate, before leaving Washington, should allow $1 billion already approved for Hurricane Katrina relief to be spent on public-employee salaries. Landrieu said the first vote upon the Senate's return should be on redirecting an additional $14 billion for education, health care and small-business relief.

"I know times are tough in Baghdad. But times are tough in the Gulf Coast," Landrieu said. "Our war is right here at home. Our war is right here in the Gulf Coast."

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said he supports Landrieu's "wish list" but that he does not believe Congress can pass it before its break. The Senate, however, is expected to vote on the defense bill before adjourning. The bill would provide $5 billion more for wars than the House version, but the final bill is expected to include $50 billion after House-Senate negotiators work out their differences.

Although the Bush administration has not asked for more war money, lawmakers say that they cannot wait for a formal request and that military officers have told them they will need the funds by mid-November to continue operations.

Both the Senate and House versions would provide a 3.1 percent pay raise for the military and increased benefits for the troops. But the bills differ in other areas.

EPA, GE Agree on Dredging

The federal government and General Electric Co. said they reached an agreement to begin dredging New York's Hudson River to remove toxic waste.

The effort to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from a 43-mile stretch of the Hudson is due to begin in 2007 under the terms of the agreement filed in federal court in Albany, N.Y.

GE said it has committed $111 million to the Environmental Protection Agency for past costs and future oversight of the work. The EPA said that GE has paid $37 million and that the new pact calls for it to pay as much as $78 million more.

"This is an important milestone in this complex environmental project that will result in a healthier river, providing vast economic and recreational opportunities," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said. The government says GE released large quantities of PCBs into the river from two manufacturing facilities for 30 years, ending in the 1970s.

Deficit Was $317 Billion

The federal budget deficit reached an estimated $317 billion in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, a drop from last year's record $412 billion shortfall, the Congressional Budget Office said.

The improvement from 2004's record deficit stems from better-than-expected growth in tax revenue, the nonpartisan budget agency said. The deficit amounted to 2.6 percent of the gross domestic product in fiscal 2005, compared with 3.6 percent of the GDP the previous year.

In mid-August, the CBO had estimated that this year's deficit would be $331 billion. Federal revenue grew from 16.3 percent of the GDP in 2004 to 17.5 percent in the past fiscal year, the budget office said.

-- From News Services