Senate Set to OK $81B War Spending Bill
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Senate Set to OK $81B War Spending Bill

Associated Press | April 21, 2005
By LIZ SIDOTI

The Senate moved toward approving $81 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday in a measure that would push the total cost of combat and reconstruction past $300 billion.

Both the Senate and House versions of the measure would give President Bush much of the money he requested, but the chambers differ over what portion should go to military operations versus other assistance.

Immigration changes, a U.S. embassy in Baghdad, military death benefits and an aircraft carrier are among the many other issues of conflict that will have to be sorted out by Senate and House negotiators.

Congressional negotiators are expected to act quickly to send the president a final bill. The Pentagon says it needs the money by the first week of May.

Overall, the Senate version would cost roughly $81 billion, less than the $81.4 billion the House approved and the $81.9 billion Bush requested.

The legislation is the fifth emergency spending package Congress has passed for wars since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It would put the overall cost of combat and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as Pentagon operations against terrorists worldwide — past $300 billion.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for Congress, says lawmakers previously approved $228 billion. The latest money is to last through the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30. Pentagon officials have said they will have to ask for more money for 2006.

In both chambers, lawmakers struggled to give troops whatever they needed while only paying for projects deemed urgent. They were leaving other items to be dealt with in the regular budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 and, in doing so, sending a message to the White House that it can't expect a rubber stamp from Congress on its emergency war-spending requests.

Still, as Bush requested, the bulk of the money would go to the Pentagon. The Army and the Marine Corps, the two service branches doing most of the fighting, would get the most.

The House bill would add money to the president's request for defense expenses but the Senate's bill would not. Instead, the Senate version would restore some money the House cut for foreign assistance and State Department programs.

The Senate bill also would fund a sprawling U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The House bill would not.

Unlike the House, the Senate tacked on a requirement that the Pentagon give Congress reports every three months on how many Iraqi security forces are trained and how many U.S. troops are needed.

The Senate also added a provision that would require the Pentagon to keep the Navy's fleet of 12 aircraft carriers intact. The Pentagon had proposed scrapping one carrier to save money.

The Senate version also would boost financial benefits for the families of soldiers killed, regardless of whether the deaths occurred in combat. The House version limits the extra money to survivors of those killed in combat-related deaths only.

Perhaps one of the most contentious issues negotiators will face is whether to include immigration overhaul measures in the final bill. The House included some, but after a lengthy debate, the Senate opted to take up immigration at another time.

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