Death Benefit Hike Included in $82B War Bill

The death benefit (search) to survivors of troops killed in combat zones would jump nearly tenfold — from $12,000 to $100,000 — under an $82 billion spending package for Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search) that is headed for final votes in the House and Senate.

President Bush gets most of what he asked for in final legislation that House and Senate negotiators agreed on Tuesday. The measure reflects a desire by lawmakers 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 up the measure next week when it returns from a weeklong recess.

Overall, the legislation is the fifth such emergency spending (search) package Congress has taken up since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It pushes the costs of the two conflicts and other efforts to fight terrorism worldwide over four years beyond $300 billion.

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, roughly $1.5 billion below Bush's proposal.

The legislation also includes immigration provisions, including one that would make states verify that driver's license applicants are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.

Since the president asked for the money for Afghanistan 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 put more armor on vehicles used in combat zones.

Congress also included the death-benefits provisions but restricted 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 commenced in Afghanistan.

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 C-130J cargo plane (search) 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 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 (search).

— $635 million for increased U.S. border security, including money to hire another 500 border patrol agents.

— Roughly $900 million for tsunami disaster relief.