WASHINGTON – House and Senate negotiators agreed Tuesday on a measure that would provide $82 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan and a nearly tenfold increase in the death benefit for survivors of troops killed in combat zones.
Overall, the legislation gives President Bush (search) most of what he asked for and pushes the costs of two conflicts and other efforts to fight terrorism worldwide beyond $300 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Congress had promised to pay only for urgent items in the spending package, but the final legislation ended up with the same overall price tag as the president's proposal.
Most of the money — $75.9 billion — is slated for military operations, nearly $1 billion more than what the president wanted. About $4.2 billion will be spent on foreign aid and other international relations programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, roughly $1.5 billion below Bush's proposal.
The legislation reflects a desire by Congress to give the Pentagon what it needs while holding the line on State Department spending. The House is to vote on the measure Thursday. The Senate is expected to take it up next week when it returns from a weeklong recess.
The legislation also includes immigration revision provisions, including one that will make states verify that driver's license applicants are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.
Since the president asked for the money for Afghanistan (search) and Iraq in February, the House and Senate had differed slightly over what portion of the spending package should go to military operations and how much should go to foreign aid.
In the end, lawmakers added more money to protect troops at war, including funding to armor vehicles used in combat zones and counter makeshift explosive devices used by insurgents.
Congress also included the death-benefits provisions but limited the one-time payment to survivors of those who die in combat zones. Some lawmakers had wanted families of all troops who are killed — no matter where they died — to be eligible. The increase would apply retroactively to families of troops killed in combat zones, as defined by the U.S. statute and including in Iraq and Afghanistan, beginning on Oct. 7, 2001, when U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan.
The one-time benefit increases to $100,000 from the current $12,000 payment.
The measure also increases life insurance benefits for all troops to $400,000 from $250,000 and creates a new insurance benefit of up to $100,000 for those who have suffered traumatic injuries such as losing a limb or eyesight.
The bill also includes a provision meant to protect the C130J cargo plane from being scaled back by the Pentagon and language that would prohibit the Pentagon from reducing its fleet of 12 aircraft carriers until it does a long-term review of defense needs.
On the foreign affairs side, Congress sliced several of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's (search) requests.
The measure provides $230 million for funds controlled by Rice for U.S. allies in the war on terror for economic and military aid. She had requested $400 million. The State Department also gets $592 million to build a sprawling embassy in Baghdad, although that, too, is about $70 million below Rice's request.
The State Department also will get $680 million for international peacekeeping efforts in countries including Sudan and Haiti and $1.7 billion for anti-drug efforts and development projects in Afghanistan. The bill also provides:
— $200 million in economic and infrastructure assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
— $635 million for increased U.S. border security, including money to hire another 500 border patrol agents.
— Roughly $900 million for tsunami disaster relief.