WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday approved a $512.9 billion military bill that addresses a host of concerns arising from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from combatting makeshift roadside bombs to equipping more vehicles and troops with armor.
Passed on a 396-31 vote, the measure includes a plan to spend $50 billion for the first part of next year's war costs.
"The theme of the bill this year was troop protection," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman. "It gives the tools to the troops in the war on terror that they need."
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the committee's top Democrat, said the measure "takes steps to ensure that our troops have the best equipment available."
Despite that endorsement, Democrats were angry that Republican leaders prevented the House from debating some amendments, and they used procedural maneuvers to delay work on the bill for a few hours in protest.
At least one of those Democratic amendments would have addressed the status of U.S. troops in Iraq, a war that has grown increasingly unpopular with the public and has dragged President Bush's approval rating to an all-time low.
In a statement, the Bush administration praised the House for supporting the fight against terrorism but indicated significant concerns with several provisions, including proposals to increase the size of the armed forces and give the military a higher pay raise than the administration sought.
As in past years, the administration threatened a veto if provisions in the final bill called for Pentagon suppliers to buy American-made items.
Lawmakers from both political parties were mindful that during wartime and an election year, opposing such a measure could invite criticism that they were turning their backs on the troops.
Overall, the bill sets Defense Department policies and plans spending for the military for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Actual money will be provided in separate legislation later this year.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved its version of the bill. It also envisions $50 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If approved, the measure would push to over $400 billion the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars and global efforts against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Like the Senate measure, the House bill would allow the Pentagon to spend millions of dollars more than what President Bush requested to continue developing countermeasures for roadside bombs — a primary cause of U.S. troop deaths. Congress wants a Pentagon task force working on the issue to speed up its efforts.