WASHINGTON – The House passed a $94.5 billion bill Tuesday to pay for continuing U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, hurricane relief, bird flu preparations and border security at home.
The House-Senate compromise bill contains $66 billion for the two wars, bringing the cost of the three-year-old war in Iraq to about $320 billion. Operations in Afghanistan have now tallied about $89 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The bill, which passed by a 351-67 vote, had only minimal debate Monday night.
It contains almost $20 billion in funds to further deal with the remaining devastation falong the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina. Much of the money would go to Louisiana for housing aid, flood control projects and a new veterans hospital in New Orleans.
It also provides funding for small-business disaster loans, rebuilding federal facilities and replenishing Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-relief coffers.
The Senate is to clear the measure for President Bush's signature later this week. The big margin in the House reflected lawmakers' support for U.S. troops overseas despite whatever reservations they may have about the war.
The measure's long legislative odyssey began in February as a $92.2 billion request by President Bush. He subsequently added another $2.2 billion in Louisiana levee projects and $1.9 billion for a border security initiative featuring the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The House largely stuck to Bush's demands when passing its version back in March. But the Senate, led by Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., responded with a $109 billion measure that drew a veto threat from Bush for add-ons such as $4 billion in farm disaster aid, $648 million for port security and $1.1 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast seafood industry.
But House negotiators killed a controversial Senate project to pay CSX Transportation $700 million for a recently rebuilt freight rail line along the Mississippi coast so the state could use its path for a new East-West highway. The project had earned scornful media coverage and protests from the White House and conservative activists.
Although the measure sticks with Bush's demand of $94.5 billion — including $2.3 billion to combat the avian flu — lawmakers reduced funding for the Federal Emergency Management's main disaster fund for additional grants for Mississippi, Texas and Alabama and a new Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss.
The FEMA disaster relief fund would still receive $6 billion, which includes $400 million for temporary housing sturdier than FEMA trailers. The funds also go toward debris removal, reimbursing state and local governments for infrastructure repairs and direct aid to individuals.
There is lingering concern that if the hurricane season is a destructive one another infusion of disaster aid will be needed before Election Day. But a senior White House official said last week that the funding would be sufficient to last
The compromise bill includes Bush's plan to provide 1,000 more Border Patrol agents along the Mexican border, deploy about 6,000 National Guard troops and build detention space for 4,000 illegal immigrants.
The bill also contains $4 billion in military and foreign aid for Iraq and other allies, and to combat famine in Africa and Afghanistan and support U.N. peacekeeping missions in Sudan.
The bill also contains funding for controversial, accident-prone V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for deployment to Iraq, as well as more popular C-130 cargo planes.
Democrats said the huge cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions being done on the installment plan, hiding their cost from the public.
"In 18 separate actions, we will now have spent $450 billion on this adventure," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "This is a huge expenditure for a misguided war."
"Enough blood is enough blood!" said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. "You can stop it! Bring our troops home!"
GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma countered that the bill "provides critical funds that will be used to conduct ongoing operations in the war on terror."
Separately, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $428 billion defense spending bill that includes another $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
The panel attached a provision to the measure Tuesday to block the U.S. from operating permanent military bases in Iraq. Both House and Senate have given overwhelming votes to such language in the Iraq war funding bill, but Republicans stripped it out in House-Senate talks.