WASHINGTON – The Senate would give President Bush $50 billion more for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a $440 billion defense spending measure a panel approved Monday.
Reflecting a post-Hurricane Katrina (search) debate about the role of the military in domestic affairs, the bill also will require that a report be provided on how National Guard units in neighboring states can be used to assist those affected by natural disasters.
Sen. Ted Stevens (search) of Alaska, the chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said lawmakers and staff members were still working on the language.
The House already has approved $45 billion more for the wars as part of its $409 billion version of the bill providing money for the Defense Department for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
Both the Senate and House versions provide for a 3.1 percent pay raise for the military, but the bills differ in other areas. The conflicts must be sorted out before Congress sends the final bill to the president for his signature.
Overall, Congress already has given the president about $350 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting terrorism worldwide since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for lawmakers. That total includes $82 billion that lawmakers approved in May.
The Bush administration has not yet asked for more war money, but lawmakers are reluctant to wait for a formal request. Costs are certain given that there's no end in sight to involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Lawmakers are doling out dollars for the wars even as concerns arise about paying for reconstruction of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast (search). At the same time, Congress and the president are facing public unease about the direction of the war in Iraq, according to public opinion polls that show dwindling support for it.
The House spending measure has been finished since June, but the Stevens panel postponed work on the Senate version in hopes that the authorization bill setting defense policy would be voted on first, as is customary.
But that bill is stalled, and Stevens said the panel couldn't wait any longer to approve the spending bill, given that the new budget year is approaching. "We know that 2006 funding will be needed in early November," he said.
Excluding war money, the Senate bill totals $390 billion — more than the $364 billion the House approved but less than the $397 billion the president had requested for the Defense Department.
The Senate bill also:
—Pays for permanent manpower increases in the Army, to 522,400 soldiers, and the Marine Corps, to 178,000 Marines. Lawmakers want to increase active-duty troop levels to take pressure off of National Guard and Reserve troops serving overseas.
—Adds $422 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment, some of which is being used — and battered — in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
—Includes $622.5 million to support additional recruiting and retention incentives at a time when enlistments are lagging.