As President Bush bolstered support for the Iraq government by appearing with its leaders in Baghdad, the House on Tuesday approved an additional $66 billion for military operations there and in Afghanistan.
When combined with earlier bills, the House-Senate compromise brings the tally for the three-year-old war in Iraq to about $320 billion. Operations in Afghanistan have now reached about $89 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The House Appropriations Committee approved another $50 billion for the war for the budget year starting Oct. 1. That should be enough to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through early next year, when Bush is expected to request more funds.
The $94.5 billion measure also provides funds for hurricane relief, bird flu preparations and border security at home.
The bill, which passed by a 351-67 vote, had only minimal debate Monday night.
$450 billion on wars
Democrats said the huge cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions is being handled on the installment plan, hiding the cost from the public.
“In 18 separate actions, we will now have spent $450 billion on this adventure,” said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “This is a huge expenditure for a misguided war.”
“This bill ensures we give (U.S. troops) all of the equipment and resources necessary to successfully fight and win the Global War on Terror,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The bill contains almost $20 billion to further deal with the hurricane devastation along the Gulf Coast. Much of the money would go to Louisiana for housing aid, flood control projects and a new veterans hospital in New Orleans.
It also provides funding for small-business disaster loans, rebuilding federal facilities and replenishing Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-relief coffers.
Bush signature expected Thursday
The Senate is to clear the measure for Bush’s signature Thursday. The big margin in the House reflected lawmakers’ support for U.S. troops overseas despite whatever reservations they may have about the war in Iraq and its $8 billion per month cost.
“How on earth has the monthly cost of the war in Iraq grown so much in just two years?” asked Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. “The Bush administration announced that major combat operations ended in May of 2003. But the costs of the war continue to spiral.”
The Iraq and hurricane relief measure’s legislative odyssey began in February as a $92.2 billion request by Bush. He subsequently added $2.2 billion in Louisiana levee projects and $1.9 billion for a border security initiative featuring the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The House largely stuck to Bush’s demands when passing its version back in March. But the Senate, led by Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., responded with a $109 billion measure that drew a veto threat from Bush for add-ons such as $4 billion in farm disaster aid, $648 million for port security and $1.1 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast seafood industry.
House negotiators killed a controversial Senate project to pay CSX Transportation $700 million for a recently rebuilt freight rail line along the Mississippi coast so the state could use its path for a new highway. The project had earned scornful media coverage and protests from the White House and conservative activists.
Although the measure sticks with Bush’s demand of $94.5 billion — including $2.3 billion to combat avian flu — lawmakers cut back money for FEMA’s main disaster fund for additional grants for Mississippi, Texas and Alabama and a new Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss.
The FEMA disaster relief fund would still receive $6 billion, which includes $400 million for temporary housing sturdier than FEMA trailers. The funds also go toward debris removal, reimbursing state and local governments for infrastructure repairs and direct aid to individuals.
The compromise bill includes Bush’s plan to provide 1,000 more Border Patrol agents along the Mexican border, deploy about 6,000 National Guard troops and build detention space for 4,000 illegal immigrants.
The bill contains $4 billion in military and foreign aid for Iraq and other allies and to combat famine in Africa and Afghanistan and support U.N. peacekeeping missions in Sudan.
Lack of unity on Iraq
The House approved the Iraq funds as Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill scrambled to unify behind a position on Iraq.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other senior Democrats were not quick to embrace Sen. John Kerry’s proposal to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by year’s end. Rather, several Senate Democrats said their caucus was discussing Iraq proposals that could get wide Democratic support.
Democratic officials said leaders are trying to build consensus around a proposal that would call for the redeployment of troops to start — but not necessarily end — this year.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said: “I think just a naked date, without it being attached to what our plan as to how you would succeed in leaving something better, would not be the most appropriate way to go.”
In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and her lieutenants were discussing a possible alternative war resolution to one GOP leaders were calling up for a vote Thursday.
GOP leaders appeared set on choreographing the debate to maximize support for the GOP resolution, which asserts that the United States will prevail in the war on terrorism and praises U.S. troops. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said he didn’t think Democrats would be permitted a vote on an alternative.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., called the GOP resolution a “mom and apple pie” proposal that was hard to vote against. “The resolution as worded, there’s not much to disagree with,” he said.