WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to give President Bush $92 billion more for Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf Coast hurricane relief despite worries about the ballooning costs of the war and the recovery effort.
On a 348-71 vote, Republicans and Democrats joined to pass the measure, eager to demonstrate support for the troops and hurricane reconstruction eight months before the midterm elections.
"Concerns about the deficit and spending are overridden by the urgent issues before us — supporting our troops and helping the hurricane victims," said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
Nineteen Republicans, mostly fiscal conservatives, and 52 Democrats, including longtime war opponents, voted against the measure. "Not one more dime for this administration's ill-conceived, ill-advised, misguided and failed Iraq policy," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
The bulk of the bill, $67.6 billion, would pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would boost to nearly $400 billion the total spent on the conflicts and operations against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The bill also contains $19.2 billion for cleaning up and rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Katrina struck last summer. That would bring total hurricane-related spending to more than $100 billion.
The Senate plans to complete its version of the measure this spring.
Bush, in a statement, praised the House vote and urged the Senate to follow suit promptly. "This bill will give our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan tools they need to prevail in the war on terror," he said. "The legislation also provides for additional resources for the people of the Gulf Coast as they continue the work of rebuilding their lives and communities."
Lawmakers took up the bill at a delicate time, particularly for Republicans who control the White House and both houses of Congress. Bush's popularity is at a low point, the federal deficit continues to rise and public support for the Bush administration's Iraq policies is waning as sectarian violence threatens to push the country into civil war.
AP-Ipsos polling in early March showed that about four in 10 Americans supported the president's handling of Iraq, his efforts on foreign policy and terrorism, and his handling of the hurricane recovery.
Despite such widespread public dissatisfaction, lawmakers from both parties backed the measure. Opposing it could invite election-year criticism for Republicans and Democrats alike that they were shortchanging troops at war or abandoning hurricane victims.
"Everybody supports the troops and everyone knows that as long as they're there, we're going to give them what they need," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. "I just regret that we have to pass this (debt) on to future generations."
The spending bill also includes, in defiance of Bush, a provision that would block Dubai-owned DP World from running or managing terminals at U.S. ports. That ban probably will not make it into the final bill now that the company has promised to sell its U.S. operations in the face of bipartisan congressional pressure.
Before the final vote, Republicans defeated a Democratic effort to add $1.2 billion for domestic security programs, including $825 million for protecting ports. Conservative Republicans, wanting to lessen the impact on the deficit, failed in an attempt to pay for the hurricane aid by cutting other programs in the budget.
The president would get most of what he requested. Much of the new war money would pay for operations and maintenance costs, equipment replacement and personnel expenses.
Of the total, $4.8 billion would go for training and equipping Iraqi and Afghan security forces. The administration contends that large numbers of U.S. troops can begin returning home once the Iraqi security forces themselves are able to safeguard their country.
The bill would provide more money for armored vehicles and nearly $2 billion for the Pentagon to develop technology to detect and destroy makeshift roadside bombs. Also known as improvised explosive devices, these are the Iraq insurgency's weapon of choice and the leading killer of U.S. troops.
Of the hurricane money, nearly $9.6 billion would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for removing debris, reimbursing state and local governments for building repairs and helping storm victims.
In the six months since Katrina hit, Republicans and Democrats have criticized FEMA's response to the storm; some objected to giving the agency so much money.
To address such concerns, the House would provide $13.5 million to the Homeland Security Department inspector general to audit and investigate disaster assistance.