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House passes bill to fund Afghan, Iraq wars

Jun. 16, 2009 - 08:01PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 16, 2009 - 08:01PM  |  
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WASHINGTON War-funding legislation survived a fierce partisan battle in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, and its passage is a major step toward providing commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan money for military operations in coming months.

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WASHINGTON War-funding legislation survived a fierce partisan battle in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, and its passage is a major step toward providing commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan money for military operations in coming months.

Democratic leaders pushing the $106 billion measure on behalf of the Obama administration had to overcome an unusual alliance of anti-war Democrats who opposed continued war spending and Republicans who united in condemning $5 billion included in the measure to secure a $108 billion U.S. line of credit to the International Monetary Fund for loans to economically struggling poor countries. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, contended that Democrats were endangering troops by shifting money to create room for a "global bailout loan program."

The bill, in addition to about $80 billion for military operations, includes an array of other spending priorities, including $7.7 billion to respond to the flu pandemic and over $10 billion in development and security aid for Pakistan and Iraq as well as countries including Mexico and Georgia.

The vote was 226-202, with only five Republicans voting for the bill, while 32 Democrats opposed it.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, leader of the Democratic majority, unsuccessfully appealed to Republicans, saying 80 percent of the package still went to the troops. "Stand up for them," he said.

The Senate could move as early as this week on the legislation, which also includes $1 billion to fund government rebates for consumers who trade in their old vehicles for more fuel-efficient models.

The Pentagon has said that without the bill the Army could start running out of money to wage war as early as July. President Barack Obama has pushed for the package, arguing that it is crucial to his efforts to wind down operations in Iraq while boosting personnel and fighting power in Afghanistan.

Republicans also objected to a decision by House-Senate negotiators to remove a provision that would have prohibited the release of photos depicting U.S. troops abusing detainees. It was taken out, "at the demands of the fringe left," said House Republican leader John Boehner.

Obama, in negotiating the removal of the provision, guaranteed that he would stop the release of photos showing detainees abuse.

Unable to count on Republicans, Democrats had to appeal to some of the 51 anti-war colleagues who opposed the legislation when it was first offered in May. Rep. Dennis Kucinich indicated that he would not change his "no" vote. "America has to start taking care of things here at home, and we can't do it by continuing to support wars based on lies," Kucinich said.

"One of the problems is we have some very deep-seated philosophical views that pursuing Afghanistan and Iraq with additional funding is not appropriate," Hoyer said.

Votes were swayed by other factors, including the money to fight the flu pandemic and initiate the "cash for clunkers" auto program. Also in the measure is $534 million to provide extra money for 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since Sept. 11, 2001. They will receive $500 a month for every month they were held under stop-loss orders.

The measure also had almost $7 billion in "add-ons," money not sought by the Pentagon. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said those additions include controversial programs that the Pentagon did not want, such as $2.17 billion for eight C-17 transport planes.

Passage of the bill, which provides money through the Sept. 30 end of this budget year, would bring to nearly $1 trillion the amount spent on the wars and other security matters since the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 70 percent of that has gone to Iraq, the Congressional Research Service said in an analysis.

Congress has passed similar war supplementals, meaning the money is not part of the regular Pentagon budget and adds to the federal deficit, every year since 2001. The White House has said that this will be the last war supplemental and that future spending will go through the regular appropriations budgeting process.

The administration is seeking $130 billion for to finance fighting wars in the fiscal year 2010 starting in October, down from about $143 billion this year and $183 billion in fiscal 2008, the CRS said.

Obama's original request was for about $83 billion, including $75.5 billion for defense purposes. But as is customary, Congress used the must-pass bill as a vehicle to add new programs, such as the "cash for clunkers" measure or increase funds; money for pandemic flu went up by about $4 billion.

The measure includes $10.4 billion in foreign aid, with $2.4 billion for Pakistan, $1.4 billion for economic development in Afghanistan and $700 million in international food aid.

House-Senate negotiators also reached compromises on several policy controversies: they denied the White House $80 million to close the detention center at Guantanamo but agreed that detainees could be transferred to the United States to face trial. The issue of imprisoning convicted terrorists in the United States was put off for another day.

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