Friday, April 22, 2005

Senate Passes $81 Billion War Spending Bill

Yahoo! News
Senate Passes $81 Billion War Spending Bill

Thu Apr 21, 6:52 PM ET

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an $81.3 billion spending bill to keep U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan running and to provide additional help to last December's tsunami victims.

By a vote of 99-0, the Senate passed the emergency spending bill that also funds some new domestic security measures, including the hiring of additional border agents.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said the bill would "continue to support the additional funding that's needed for this fiscal year for our troops in the field, for those who are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world." The fiscal year ends at the end of September.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed its own measure to speed delivery of funds President Bush sought for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two chambers will try to work out their differences quickly and send the legislation to Bush for signing.

One major area of disagreement is over the administration's plans to build a new embassy in Baghdad. The House deleted money for the construction project, largely due to concerns about record U.S. budget deficits.

The Senate has included $592 million for the project, which would be the largest U.S. embassy in the world.

There are also differences over immigration reform, including new hurdles for foreigners seeking asylum and prohibitions on driver's licenses for illegal aliens which were embraced by the House.


The Senate sidestepped a broad immigration reform debate but did approve an amendment to temporarily lift the cap on foreign workers doing seasonal work in low-paying U.S. jobs.

Pentagon planners say they need an infusion of about $75 billion by next month to ensure the timely delivery of combat materials, including weapons, medical supplies and body armor. The legislation also provides bigger death benefits to families of soldiers killed in combat.

Once the spending bill is enacted, the running tally on Iraq and Afghanistan war costs for the United States would rise to nearly $300 billion, with about two-thirds of that total dedicated to the fighting in Iraq.

Before passing the bill, senators agreed to add $213 million to buy more armor-protected "Humvee" military vehicles through the end of this year.

Late last year, the Pentagon scurried to procure more armored Humvees after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heard soldier complaints that troops in Iraq had to forage for scrap metal to protect their vehicles from insurgent attacks.

The House bill contains $185 billion in added funding for Humvees.

The Bush administration has not provided Congress with long-term estimates of Iraq war costs, which has rankled some lawmakers. In response, the Senate used the emergency spending bill to call on the White House to do a better job of estimating those costs in upcoming budget documents.

Related to December's Indian Ocean tsunami, the Senate provided about $907 billion in additional funding, slightly below Bush's request.

The money would be used to reimburse the U.S. military for some of its emergency relief efforts and to provide about $656 million for a tsunami recovery and reconstruction fund, as well as money for improving a U.S. early warning system for detecting tsunamis.