msnbc.com news services
updated 12/22/2005 8:17:06 PM ET 2005-12-23T01:17:06

The House cleared the way Thursday for a $453 billion defense spending bill that funnels $29 billion in hurricane aid to the Gulf Coast and $50 billion more for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The action came on the heels of a move to give one month more life to the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism powers under the Patriot Act.

The $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is to carry the Pentagon until Congress acts on another emergency war supplemental next year, which lawmakers expect to be from $80 billion to $100 billion.

It is estimated that the Pentagon is spending about $6 billion a month on the Iraq war effort.

House passage of the defense spending bill also brings to a close debates that raged all autumn over funding for rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and avian flu prevention.

The military spending bill contains $29 billion to rebuild levees, schools, roads and other infrastructure destroyed in August when Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Much of the money is being taken from emergency hurricane aid already enacted but not yet spent by the federal government. The rest of the funding is being offset by other accounting maneuvers.

Bill includes funds for possible pandemic
The defense spending bill also contains nearly $3.8 billion to begin preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic. The Bush administration had sought more than $7 billion for stockpiling drugs and other steps in case the deadly animal illness mutates in a way that makes it easily transmissible to humans.

The money would also be used to increase international surveillance of the disease and to help state and local authorities in the United States prepare.

The House passed the defense bill and the Patriot Act legislation in a year-end scramble to finish its work, complicated by standoffs with Democrats and disagreements among Republicans.

The Patriot Act extension keeps the anti-terrorism laws in place until Feb. 3. The Senate was scheduled to reconvene to consider the legislation so it can become law.

The House put the act on its short leash after House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., objected to a longer, six-month extension.

Patriot Act was set to expire Dec. 31
President Bush and Republican leaders had insisted the law be permanently extended before its scheduled expiration on Dec. 31. They were stymied by a Senate filibuster, led by critics who claimed the legislation failed to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans.

Under a deadline laid down by the Senate, the House had to address the defense spending bill, including Gulf Coast aid, before the end of the day.

It will not be the Christmas present that President Bush wished for after Republicans earlier lost a quarter-century campaign to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

That drilling authority was stripped out of the bill. The change also eliminated at least $2 billion in emergency aid for low-income families facing high heating bills this winter.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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