WASHINGTON – The House passed a $453.3 billion defense spending bill Thursday, including $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and other funding such as for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
The bill, which now goes to President Bush for his signature, was approved by the Senate Wednesday after Democrats forced the Republican majority to strip from it a measure opening up an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling.
The $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is to carry the Pentagon until Congress acts on another emergency war supplemental next year, which lawmakers expect to be from $80 billion to $100 billion.
It is estimated that the Pentagon is spending about $6 billion a month on the Iraq war effort.
House passage of the defense spending bill also brings to a close debates that raged all autumn over funding for rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and avian flu prevention.
The military spending bill contains $29 billion to rebuild levees, schools, roads and other infrastructure destroyed in August when Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Much of the money is being taken from emergency hurricane aid already enacted but not yet spent by the federal government. The rest of the funding is being offset by other accounting maneuvers.
The defense spending bill also contains nearly $3.8 billion to begin preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic. The Bush administration had sought more than $7 billion for stockpiling drugs and other steps in case the deadly animal illness mutates in a way that makes it easily transmissible to humans.
The money would also be used to increase international surveillance of the disease and to help state and local authorities in the United States prepare.
(CONGRESS-DEFENSE; reporting by Richard Cowan, editing by Frances Kerry; Reuters Messaging: donna.smith.reuters.com+reuters.net; e-mail: donna.smith+reuters.com; tel: 202-898-8391))