Congress Advances $106 Billion War-Funding Bill

Congress is on its way to giving President Barack Obama what could be its final emergency war-spending bill, an annual budgetary sleight-of-hand that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has cost the nation nearly $1 trillion.

The Senate is to move to the $106 billion measure Wednesday, a day after the House narrowly passed the bill over the objections of nearly all Republicans and several dozen anti-war Democrats.

The bill provides about $80 billion to maintain defense and intelligence activities in Iraq and Afghanistan through the rest of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It includes some $10 billion in economic and security aid for those two countries as well as Pakistan and $7.7 billion to combat the flu pandemic.

Obama pushed hard for passage, saying it was crucial to his plans to wind down operations in Iraq in an orderly way while boosting force strength in Afghanistan and providing Pakistan with the military and economic aid it needs to deal with the Taliban insurgency.

The president, who campaigned on a platform of bringing the Iraq war to an end, also sought to placate the anti-war wing of his party by directing that his administration end the practice of emergency spending bills.

Every year since 2001, Congress has approved what are called emergency supplementals, an ad-hoc, unpaid-for approach outside the normal Pentagon budget, to finance military and anti-terror activities. The Congressional Research Service estimates that, with enactment of the current bill, the outlay will approach $1 trillion, with $684 billion for Iraq, $223 billion for Afghanistan and $28 billion for various security programs.

The Obama White House has requested — through the Pentagon budget — about $130 billion for war operations in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, down from about $149 billion this year.

The House vote on the 2009 supplemental took place as it opened debate on 2010 spending bills. On Tuesday it began deliberation on a $64.4 billion bill to finance law enforcement, science, census and Commerce Department programs in 2010. It includes $18.2 billion for NASA, including money for the next generation of human space flight, and $7.4 billion to prepare for the 2010 census.

The 226-202 House vote on the war spending bill was unusual in that Republicans, strong supporters of military spending, were almost unanimous in opposing the bill.

The minority party objected to the inclusion in the final House-Senate compromise bill of $5 billion to secure a $108 billion U.S. line of credit to the International Monetary Fund for loans to poorer countries hit by the economic downturn.

Obama pledged the U.S. commitment at the G-20 meeting in London last April, but Republicans raised strong objections.

"What does a $108 billion global bailout have to do with protecting our troops and giving them the tools they need for victory?" asked House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland countered that the past three Republican presidents all supported the IMF and suggested that the GOP was raising the issue "to try to embarrass Democrats" by showing they can't pass spending bills. "We can and we will," he said.

Republicans also balked at the removal from the final bill of a provision barring the release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing detainees. Obama, in negotiating that removal, gave assurances that he would stop any attempt to make the photos public.

Last month, when the House passed its original version of the bill without the IMF provision by a 368-60 margin, 51 anti-war Democrats opposed it. This time, with only five Republicans voting for it, Democratic leaders managed to reduce opposition within their party to 32.

Among other provisions in the bill:

—$534 million for some 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since Sept. 11, 2001. They will receive $500 for every month they were held under stop-loss orders.

—$10.4 billion for international aid, with $1.4 billion for Afghanistan, $2.4 billion for Pakistan, $958 million for Iraq, $390 million for refugee assistance and $700 million for international food assistance.

—$721 million for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

—$1 billion for a "cash for clunkers" program in which the government offers rebates to consumers who trade in their old gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient models.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation also concluded that the bill had nearly $7 billion in "add-ons," funds not sought by the Pentagon. That included $2.17 billion to buy eight C-17 transport planes — a program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in April that he was terminating.

Obama in April requested a supplemental of about $83 billion, including $75.5 billion for defense purposes.


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