WASHINGTON – Just days before leaving Washington to campaign, Congress is moving to provide $70 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a record $448 billion Pentagon budget.
With Iraq alone costing about $8 billion a month, another infusion of funds will be needed next spring. Opinion polls show the war continues to be unpopular with voters, but even Democratic opponents of the war generally embrace the Pentagon measure, since it provides funding for body armor and other support for U.S. troops overseas.
The House passed the Pentagon appropriations bill Tuesday night on a 394-22 vote, and the Senate could clear the bill for President Bush as early as Wednesday or Thursday.
The House-Senate compromise bill provides $378 billion for core Pentagon programs, about a 5 percent increase, though not quite as much as Bush requested. The $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan is a down payment on war costs the White House has estimated will hit $110 billion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
With final passage of the bill, Congress will have approved $507 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan and heightened security at overseas military bases since the Sept. 11 attacks five years ago, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The growing price tag of the Iraq conflict is partly driven by the need to repair and replace military equipment destroyed in battle or simply worn out in harsh, dusty conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Almost $23 billion was approved for Army, Marine Corps and National Guard equipment such as helicopters, armored Humvees, Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles, radios and night-vision equipment.
Another $1.9 billion is for new jammers to counter improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan and $1 billion is provided for body armor and other personal protective gear.
The measure includes a Democratic-sponsored provision against establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. GOP leaders dropped identical language from an Iraq funding bill this June.
While the measure enjoys sweeping support, the brief debate sparked partisan exchanges over the Iraq war.
"If the president had told us the truth, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein ... presented no real threat to us, that there was no likelihood of weapons of mass destruction, that there was no connection to Al Qaeda ... would this Congress have voted for war?" said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "I don't think so."
"Is the world better or worse off without (Hussein)?" said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "I think it's better, and it took American action."
The bill would be the first of 11 spending bills to clear Congress for the new budget year.
So little progress has been made on other bills that the Pentagon measure also carries a stopgap funding bill to keep open, through Nov. 17, agencies whose funding bills won't have passed. Only the homeland security measure is expected to also pass before Congress leaves Washington to campaign.
The core bill contains $86 billion for personnel costs, enough to support 482,000 Army soldiers and 175,000 Marines. That would provide for a 2.2 percent pay increase for the military as Bush requested in his February budget.
Another $120 billion would go to operations and maintenance costs, slightly less than the Pentagon request. And $81 billion is provided to buy new weapons, with another $76 billion dedicated to research and development costs.
That's still not enough for the White House, which requested $4 billion more. But House appropriators diverted that money to ease cuts in domestic programs. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a version shifting $9 billion to domestic programs but backed off in the face of a White House veto threat.
The sprawling measure contains good news for lawmakers from Maine, California and Missouri, among others. The bill includes $2.6 billion for two super-modern Navy DD(X) destroyers. That is significant because it would allow Bath Iron Works in Maine and Northrop Grumman's Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi to build one ship each.
A House-passed defense policy bill had called for only one DD(X) ship, to be built in Mississippi.
The measure also almost triples Bush's request for eight C-17 cargo planes, providing for 22 of the aircraft, which are built in Long Beach, Calif. Several components are manufactured at Boeing's St. Louis-based defense company.
But Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, would face cuts. Bush requested five planes, but lawmakers cut that back to two, though funds are provided for advanced purchases of parts for 12 more.