House OKs $70 billion more for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan

Tuesday, September 26th 2006, 9:59 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite intense partisan divisions over the course of the Iraq war, the House on Tuesday easily approved $70 billion more for military operations there and in Afghanistan. Lawmakers also adopted a record $448 billion budget for the Pentagon.

With Iraq alone costing about $8 billion a month, another infusion of money will be needed next spring.

The House passed the Pentagon appropriations bill by a 394-22 vote Tuesday night, and the Senate is due to act before adjourning this weekend for the fall campaign.

The House-Senate compromise bill provides $378 billion for core Pentagon programs, about a 5 percent increase, though not quite as much as President Bush asked for. The $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan is a down payment on war costs the White House has
estimated will hit $110 billion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

With final passage of the bill, Congress will have approved $507 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and heightened security at overseas military bases since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

"If the president had told us the truth, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein ... presented no real threat to us, that there was no likelihood of weapons of mass destruction, that there was no connection to al-Qaida ... would this Congress have voted for war?" said Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "I don't think so."

"Is the world better or worse off without (Hussein)?" asked Tom Cole, R-Okla. "I think it's better, and it took American action."

Opinion polls indicate the war continues to be unpopular with voters, but even Democratic opponents of the war generally embraced the Pentagon measure, which provides funding for body armor and other support for U.S. troops overseas.

The growing price tag of the Iraq conflict is partly driven by the need to repair and replace military equipment worn out in harsh, dusty conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan or destroyed in battle. Almost $23 billion was approved for Army, Marine Corps and National Guard equipment such as helicopters, armored Humvees, Bradley armored fighting vehicles, radios and night-vision equipment.

Lawmakers allotted $1.9 billion for new jammers to counter improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan and $1 billion is provided for body armor and other personal protective gear.

The measure includes a Democratic-sponsored provision against establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. GOP leaders dropped identical language from an Iraq funding bill this June.

The bill would be the first of 11 spending bills to clear Congress for the new budget year.

So little progress has been made on other bills that the Pentagon measure also carries a stopgap funding bill to keep open through Nov. 17 agencies whose funding bills won't have passed. Only the homeland security measure is expected to also pass before Congress leaves Washington to campaign.

The core bill contains $86 billion for personnel costs, enough to support 482,000 Army soldiers and 175,000 Marines. That would provide for a 2.2 percent pay increase for the military, as Bush requested in his February budget.

The bill provides $120 billion for operations and maintenance costs, just less than the Pentagon request. And $81 billion goes for procurement of new weapons, with $76 billion dedicated to research and development costs.

That's still not enough for the White House, which requested $4 billion more. But House appropriators diverted that money to ease cuts in domestic programs. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a version shifting $9 billion to domestic programs but backed off in
the face of a White House veto threat.

The sprawling measure contains good news for lawmakers from Maine, California and Missouri, among others. The bill includes $2.6 billion for two super-modern Navy DD(X) destroyers. That is significant because it would allow Bath Iron Works in Maine and
Northrop Grumman's Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi to build one ship each.

A House-passed defense policy bill had called for only one DD(X) ship, to be built in Mississippi.

The measure also almost triples Bush's request for eight C-17 cargo planes, providing for 22 of the aircraft, which are built in Long Beach, Calif. Several components are manufactured at Boeing's St. Louis-based defense company.

But Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, would face cuts. Bush requested five planes, but lawmakers cut that back to two, though funds are provided for advanced purchases of parts for 12 more.