WASHINGTON – The House (search), debating an $81.4 billion war spending bill on Tuesday, prohibited money in the legislation from being used for a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, a move that went against the administration's wishes.
President Bush (search) had asked that $658 million in his request for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be spent on a fortified diplomatic compound that could house a staff of 1,000 in Iraq. House Republicans sliced that request to $590 million.
In a 258-170 vote on Tuesday, the House approved an amendment that bars money in the war-spending package from being used for embassy security, construction and maintenance.
Rep. Fred Upton (search), R-Mich., the sponsor of the amendment, said building an embassy is not something that should be paid for through a spending bill intended for emergencies. "This is not an argument about priorities but rather process," Upton said.
The president proposed his $81.9 billion war-spending package in February, and almost immediately members of Congress bristled at the request by the State Department for a sprawling embassy in Baghdad. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argued to House leadership that building a secure embassy in Iraq was an urgent matter.
Other State Department programs, as well as Afghanistan reconstruction projects, took a hit in the House version of the bill, which would provide only about half of the $4 billion the president had requested.
Aside from that, the House is poised to give Bush much of what he asked for when it votes on the bill later this week. Swift passage with bipartisan support is expected in the House. The Senate isn't expected to craft its version until next month.
The House version is roughly $500 million less than the president's request. But it would add $1.8 billion over the president's request for buying body armor, medical supplies, night-vision devices, communications equipment, weapons, ammunition and armor kits for combat vehicles. That brings the total for defense-related expenses to $76.8 billion.
As debate got under way on the bill Tuesday, the House added $100 million for Sudan relief through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.
The House also attached a provision to the bill that would tighten border security.
The measure, approved by voice vote, would:
—Require states to verify they aren't giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.
—Give judges broader power to deport political-asylum seekers whom they suspect may be terrorists.
—Allow construction of roads and barriers for border security without regard to environmental protections.
The House had approved the border security measure as a stand-alone bill in February. But by attaching it to the emergency war spending package, the House ensured the Senate will address it when House and Senate negotiators meet to write a final version of the legislation.
Senators who have been pushing comprehensive immigration reform see the House-passed bill as a piecemeal approach.
Democrats offered a slew of amendments to the war package, most of which were rejected, and used the opportunity to denounce the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's post-invasion strategy. They also criticized the White House for lapses in accountability.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment that would require Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to lay out for Congress a "strategy of success" for Iraq, including goals and a timetable for achieving them. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
Combined with previously approved funds, the package — the fifth emergency spending plan before Congress since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — would drive the totals spent so far on Iraq, Afghanistan and operations against terrorists worldwide beyond $300 billion.