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Congress OKs $82 billion Iraq spending bill

Congress approved an additional $82 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan and combating terrorism worldwide on Tuesday, boosting the cost of the global effort since 2001 to more than $300 billion.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Congress approved an additional $82 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan and combating terrorism worldwide on Tuesday, boosting the cost of the global effort since 2001 to more than $300 billion.

The Senate approved the measure by a 100-0 vote Tuesday. The House easily approved the measure last week. It now goes to President Bush for his signature, which is certain.

The fifth such emergency spending package Congress has taken up since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the bill includes sweeping immigration changes, a nearly tenfold increase in the one-time payment for families of troops killed in combat, and money to build a sprawling U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

Most of the money — $75.9 billion — is slated for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, while $4.2 billion goes to foreign aid and other international relations programs.

The president sent Congress his spending proposal in February and the final bill — a compromise between versions passed by the House and Senate — looks largely like what he requested even though both Republican-controlled chambers had promised to fund only items and programs that lawmakers deemed urgent.

Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the final bill “a genuine compromise between the two bodies on legislation that is of utmost importance to our troops who are deployed in the war on terror and for our allies around the world.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the bill was “absolutely critical to winning the war on terror.”

Opportunity for Democratic criticism
Democrats used the opportunity to criticize the Bush administration for its Iraq policies and for failing to go through the normal budget process to pay for the wars. Many also assailed Republicans for tacking on immigration provisions.

The measure requires states to start issuing more uniform driver’s licenses and verify the citizenship or legal status of people getting them. It also toughens asylum laws, authorizes the completion of a fence across the California-Mexican border and provides money to hire more border security agents. The House had included most of the provisions in its version of the bill. The Senate did not but agreed during negotiations to go along with the House.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill comes up short in at least two areas. “We should have received much greater attention in this bill about our ability to succeed in Iraq,” Reid said. And, he said, immigration reform should have been dealt with later.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the immigration provisions “were formulated behind closed doors by the House and Senate Republican leadership.”

Overall, the measure reflects a desire by lawmakers to give the Pentagon what it needs while holding the line on State Department spending. Lawmakers provided roughly $1 billion more than the president had sought for defense and about $1.5 billion less than he wanted for international relations programs.

Ammunition, armor, weapons
The legislation provides money for combat costs, including ammunition, armor for vehicles, weapons systems and other equipment. The Army gets much of the defense money because that service is bearing the brunt of the fighting.

The bill also boosts the one-time benefit for survivors of troops killed in combat zones — from $12,000 to $100,000. The increase would apply retroactively to families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning on Oct. 7, 2001.

On the foreign affairs side, the measure provides $592 million for a secure diplomatic compound in Baghdad, $230 million for U.S. allies in the war on terror, and $200 million in economic and infrastructure assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The bill also provides $907 million for expenses and aid related to the December tsunami in Southeast Asia.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had pressured lawmakers to pass the bill quickly, saying the Pentagon would run out of money for wars if it didn’t get the money by last week. But the Pentagon diverted roughly $1 billion in funds from other accounts to pay for the war in anticipation of congressional delays.