WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Tuesday to provide $70 billion for U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, handing a victory to President Bush and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill.
The 70-25 roll call paved the way for the Senate to pass a $555 billion omnibus appropriations bill combining the war funding with the budgets for 14 Cabinet agencies.
Bush was ready to sign the bill, assuming the war funding clears the House on Wednesday. Democrats again failed to win votes to force removal of U.S. troops or set a nonbinding target to remove most troops by the end of next year.
"Even those of us who have disagreed on this war have always agreed on one thing: Troops in the field will not be left without the resources they need," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The year-end budget deal between the Democratic-controlled Congress and Bush ended months of battling and disappointed GOP purists who complained the bill spends too much money and contains about 9,000 pet projects sought by members of Congress.
"Congress refuses to rein in its wasteful spending or curb its corruption," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz. Conservatives estimated the measure contained at least $28 billion in domestic spending above Bush's budget, funded by a combination of "emergency" spending, transfers from the defense budget, budget gimmicks and phantom savings.
With Bush winning the $70 billion infusion of troop funding, other Republicans muted their criticism.
"I do think the president has a victory here," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. But the win was hardly clear-cut for Republicans hoping the president would emerge from the monthslong battle with Democrats over the budget with a result that would more clearly demonstrate to core GOP voters the party's commitment to fiscal discipline.
While disappointed by ceding Iraq funding to Bush, Democrats hailed the pending appropriations bill for smoothing the rough edges of Bush's February budget plan, which sought below-inflation increases for most domestic programs and contained numerous cutbacks and program eliminations.
The omnibus bill largely yields to the President's top-line budget numbers, but it also addresses some of the bottom-line priorities of the American people," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "The Grinch tried to steal Christmas, but we didn't let him get all of it."
Democrats were able to fill in most of the cuts by using the very budgetary sleight of hand lambasted by conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Citizens Against Government Waste.
The White House, which maintained a hard line for months, has been far more forgiving in recent days, accepting $11 billion in "emergency" spending for veterans, drought relief, border security and firefighting accounts, among others. Other budget moves added billions more.
"Congress did come down to the president's overall top line," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "And in regards of the emergency spending, most of that spending would have passed on an emergency basis anyway. It's not added into the baseline of the budget."
The bill passed the House late Monday. Under an unusual legislative two-step, the Iraq portion of the bill would be returned to the House on Wednesday, with Republicans supplying the winning margin. That vote, if successful, would send the entire omnibus bill to Bush for his signature.
Democrats succeeded in reversing cuts sought by Bush to heating subsidies, local law enforcement, Amtrak and housing as well as Bush's plan to eliminate the $654 million budget for grants to community action agencies that help the poor.
Democrats also reversed Bush-sought cuts to state and local law enforcement grants, aid to community action groups and airport modernization grants.
Democrats also added funding for food programs, subsidies to community development banks and Homeland Security Department grants to first responders.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group that opposes so-called pork barrel projects, counted 8,983 such "earmarks" worth $7.4 billion. These hometown pet projects include economic development grants, aid to local transit and police departments and clean water projects, among many others.