Published March 17, 2006
WASHINGTON – The Senate probably will give President Bush most of the money he wants for the Iraq war and Gulf Coast hurricane reconstruction while setting aside bipartisan worries about the enormous costs of both.
That's what the House did when it voted 348-71 Thursday to approve $92 billion in supplemental funds for Iraq and Afghanistan military operations and Hurricane Katrina cleanup, slightly less than what the president sought.
"Our troops need every resource available to stay safe on the ground and fight off insurgent attacks," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said. The bill, he added, "recognizes the needs on the front lines of the war and responds."
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."
Despite concerns over massive budget shortfalls, House Republicans and Democrats alike were reluctant to vote against the measure. Doing so could invite election-year criticism that lawmakers were shortchanging troops at war or abandoning hurricane victims.
"How do you vote against it?" said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas.
But 52 Democrats, including longtime war opponents, and 19 Republicans, mostly fiscal conservatives, opposed it despite that risk.
The conservative Republicans sought to lessen the impact on the deficit by cutting other programs in the budget to pay for the hurricane recovery money. Unsuccessful, they voted against the measure to make a statement.
"We're not going to support anything and everything wrapped around war funding," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.
The Senate plans to complete its version of the measure this spring. In previous years senators have been reluctant to deviate significantly from Bush's blueprints for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and last year signed off on much of his initial requests for hurricane funding.
Congress will send a final bill to the president's desk shortly after the Senate acts.
Most of the House bill, $67.6 billion, would pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once approved, the money would boost to nearly $400 billion the total spent on the conflicts and operations against terrorism since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush's 2007 budget anticipates an additional $50 billion for war, though the costs probably will be much greater.
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.
Lawmakers are taking up the bill at a delicate time, particularly for Republicans, who, along with the White House, control 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 hurricane recovery.
In defiance of Bush, the House bill also included 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.
Much of the new war money in the House bill 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, the Iraq insurgency's weapon of choice and the leading killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.
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.