U.S. House Approves $81.4 Bln War Spending Package

For Immediate Release:

March 16, 2005

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Bloomberg News

The U.S. House approved $81.4 billion in additional spending in 2005 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about $500 million less than President George W. Bush had requested.

The package, approved today by a vote of 388-43, includes $76.8 billion in defense spending. The remainder of the money will be used for foreign assistance, including aid to victims of the tsunami in Asia, and State Department programs.

Lawmakers trimmed Bush's request by cutting money for foreign operations, such as peacekeeping missions and money for an embassy in Baghdad, which legislators said should be included in the regular budget for next year. They approved more money than Bush sought for military spending, adding funds for armor for troops in Iraq.

``It is imperative to support our men and women in harms way in Iraq and Afghanistan'' said Representative Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.

He and other Democrats who supported the bill expressed concern that the emergency request outside the regular budget process gives them less oversight on how the money is spent.

Democrats failed to win passage of several amendments during a two-day debate, including establishing a committee to investigate the awarding of contracts in Iraq, increasing funding for the Veterans' Health Administration and providing money to hire more agents to patrol the Mexican border.

Military Costs

The additional money pushes military costs for Iraq and Afghanistan to more than $100 billion in fiscal 2005 and increases defense spending overall by about 25 percent. The Senate plans to consider its version of the bill next month.

Included in the package is $656 million in disaster relief for the December tsunami in Asia, $45 million less than Bush requested.

The House approved an amendment by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat, to restore $100 million in famine and refugee aid that appropriators had removed from Bush's request. The House Appropriations Committee March 8 approved an amendment by Jackson to restore another $150 million in emergency food aid for Sudan that appropriators also had cut.

The $81.4 billion is the fourth supplemental request approved outside the regular budget for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cost of War

``The full cost of this war is being revealed a little bit at a time, like an installment plan,'' said Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat. ``Congress has done a miserable job,'' of overseeing how money for the war is being spent.

Lawmakers approved an amendment by Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, to prohibit spending $592 million in the bill for an embassy in Iraq. Upton said that should be part of the regular 2006 budget and doesn't qualify as an emergency request.

Lawmakers refused to fund $570 million the White House sought for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan because they will be considered in the regular budget request for fiscal 2006. The House also cut $200 million from the $780 million Bush sought for peacekeeping missions.

The Bush administration said in a statement yesterday it was ``concerned the bill does not fund, or reduces funding, for several critical items requested by the president,'' and asked lawmakers to restore the funding.

The House attached a measure passed last month setting federal standards for drivers' licenses and rules to make it more difficult for immigrants to claim asylum. The move will force the Senate to debate immigration proposals removed from a bill last year that reorganized the U.S. intelligence community.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who heads an immigration subcommittee, has said the war funding and immigration rules shouldn't be linked because it may complicate passage in the Senate.