Lawmakers OK $25 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan

Thursday, June 3, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Senate and a House committee voted Wednesday to give President Bush the $25 billion he wants for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan later this year, but denied him the free hand he sought to control the money.

The moves by the two Republican-led bodies underscored the widespread congressional support for financing soldiers in the field and the bipartisan opposition to letting Bush decide how the entire amount would be spent.

By 95-0, the Senate voted to add the $25 billion to a measure laying out overall defense programs for next year, bringing its total to $447 billion. But while Bush wanted to decide how the entire $25 billion would be spent after simply informing Congress, the Senate would let him do so with just $2.5 billion and divides the rest among broad but specified accounts.

Separately, a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved a similar $416 billion package for the Pentagon that includes the $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House panel assigned all but $3 billion of the $25 billion to specific programs. Bush could transfer $1 billion on his own, and could shift $2 billion more but only with lawmakers' approval.

In a retreat from their original position, administration officials endorsed a plan discussed earlier in the day that would have limited Bush's control to $5 billion. The administration supports the version the Senate approved, said a Senate GOP aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he favored curbing Bush's ability to spend the money because of objections that the president's plan would have given him a blank check for spending the funds.

"It's something I've run into on the floor" of the Senate, "and I don't like to run into it," Stevens said at a hearing of his panel's defense subcommittee.

Lawmakers typically let the White House shift small portions of money in spending bills, often 5 percent or less. The Senate bill gives Bush more flexibility than that, but far less than Bush originally sought.

Congress widely supports the $25 billion and is expected to pass it easily later this year. The money is for the first months of the government's 2005 budget year, which starts Oct. 1, and the administration is expected to eventually seek more than $50 billion for next year's military actions in the two countries.

Bush requested the funds last month. He proposed that he be able to control how the money was spent, so long as he notified Congress that the expenditure was an emergency needed for U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the White House proposal, Bush would have been able to spend $20 billion of the funds for operations and maintenance, mostly for the Army, plus use an additional $5 billion for any defense or classified programs.

The version the Senate endorsed would provide $20.5 billion for operations and maintenance, a broad category that includes items like fuel and equipment repairs. In addition, there would be $2 billion for salaries and other personnel costs and $2.5 billion Bush could shift among those accounts and others, including classified programs and the Coast Guard.

The House subcommittee bill was far more specific -- and wide-ranging. It would provide $14.3 billion for operation and maintenance costs, with money assigned to specific items like $538 million for body armor for soldiers.

There is also $873 million for improved armor for Humvees and other vehicles, and $3.9 billion for pay and other personnel costs, including money to add 13,000 troops to the Army and Marines next year.

The bill the Senate is debating sets defense spending policy for next year. A later spending bill will have to provide the actual money.

The measure the House committee approved actually provides funds for next year. In both cases, compromise House-Senate bills will have to be finished and sent to Bush for his signature.

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