The Pentagon would get an additional $25 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 7 percent more for the rest of its programs in a $417.5 billion defense bill Congress overwhelmingly approved Thursday.
With money for 39 more Army Black Hawk helicopters, a Virginia-class attack submarine and a 3.5 percent pay raise for the troops, the measure illustrated strong wartime support for the military, crossing party lines.
Eager to affirm their backing less than four months from Election Day, the Senate approved the measure 96-0 and the House shipped it to President Bush by 410-12. The votes came just hours before Congress was to start a six-week summer recess.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the bill showed Congress’ support for “the men and women in uniform who risk their lives for our country each day.”
It was the first of the 13 spending bills financing the government for 2005 that the Republican-run House and Senate sent to the White House.
With record federal deficits prompting the GOP to try reining in most domestic spending, numerous disputes make completion of most of the other measures unlikely until after the government’s budget year starts Oct. 1.
In other budget work:
- The House approved a $10 billion military construction measure by 420-1. First, as expected, it dropped an expansion of a housing program for soldiers’ families that conservatives said broke budget limits. The Senate has not yet voted on its version.
- The House Appropriations Committee passed a $90 billion bill financing the Transportation and Treasury departments after voting 42-16 to give civilian federal workers the same 3.5 percent raise as members of the military. Bush recommended a 1.5 percent increase for civilians.
- The same House panel approved $92.9 billion for veterans, housing and space programs after fighting off separate efforts by Democrats and conservative Republicans to increase veterans health-care spending.
The bill cuts funds for NASA, environment and science programs and increases veterans health care to $30.3 billion — still $1.3 billion less than veterans’ groups want. By voice vote, lawmakers added more than 1,100 home-district projects to the measure, including $250,000 for Banning, Calif., to build a municipal pool and $900,000 for work on the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Congressional victory over Bush
The $25 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan represented a victory for Congress over Bush, who began the year insisting no extra funds would be needed until after the elections.
Under pressure from lawmakers, he requested the money in May, saying he would not need to spend it until autumn. He proposed being able to move the money among Pentagon accounts as he wished.
Instead, the war money will be available when Bush signs the measure into law. He will only be able to shift $2 billion without Congress’ permission.
The $25 billion will probably be less than half what will be needed next year. On Wednesday, congressional auditors estimated the Pentagon will need another $12.3 billion for the wars to make it through September.
“The administration has fallen down on the job in budgeting for these wars, and its budget projections simply are not to be trusted,” said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
Administration officials say they expect to have enough money through September by moving money among accounts.
The war funds include money for body armor, reinforced Humvee vehicles and $500 million to train the new armies of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dropped was House-passed language requiring the Pentagon to reveal the private security contractors it hires for work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba — an outgrowth of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
Less than president requested
The bill has $1.6 billion less than Bush requested for the Pentagon but nearly $25 billion over this year’s total, excluding money for Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has nearly $78 billion for weapons purchases, $3 billion more than Bush requested. Included is more money for Air Force unmanned Predator aerial attack vehicles, Stryker combat vehicles for the Army and a DD(X) destroyer.
There is $10 billion for continued work on a national missile defense system. And there is $100 million for the Air Force to modernize its fleet of midair refueling tankers — though House language was dropped requiring 80 of the craft to be purchased from the ailing Boeing Co.
Included were several non-defense items, including $500 million for fighting wildfires, $95 million to help victims of warfare in Sudan and $25 million each for Boston and New York to bolster security during this summer’s Democratic and GOP conventions.
Before approving the Treasury-Transportation bill, the House panel rejected by 26-25 a Democratic effort to kill a provision barring the Treasury Department from letting banks accept a Mexican identification card for financial transactions.
It also rejected, 29-26, a Democratic proposal to bar Treasury contracts for companies that have avoided some U.S. taxes by moving their offices overseas.