WASHINGTON – House and Senate negotiators agreed Tuesday on a $460 billion Pentagon bill that bankrolls pricey weapons systems and bomb-resistant vehicles for troops, but has little for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats said they wouldn't leave troops in the lurch, but were reluctant to say when Congress might consider President Bush's $196 billion request to pay expressly for combat operations.
The nearly half-trillion dollar bill covers the 2008 budget year, which began Oct. 1.
Republicans supported the spending measure, but said the lack of war money would cause a tremendous strain on the military. To keep the wars afloat, the Pentagon would have to transfer money from less urgent accounts, such as personnel and training programs.
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate defense appropriations panel, said that if Congress didn't act soon, the Army would run out of money by January.
"I do believe that Congress would break the Army if it refuses to fund the troops with what they need now," he said.
Stevens suggested adding $70 billion to the bill for the wars, but Democrats, who hold sway on the panel, declined.
"This amendment would send to the president additional funding for his horrible, misguided war in Iraq without any congressional direction that he change course. No strings attached," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
While the bill omits most money for the war, it does include $11 billion for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles. Stevens said the money to produce the vehicles was useless unless Congress approved additional funds to deploy them.
Democrats were considering approving money for the war in a separate bill — a tack that would give party members a chance to oppose war spending and still support the military's annual budget.
Ten months into their reclaimed control of Congress, Democrats have been unable to pass legislation ordering troops home. Republicans are more optimistic than ever that the Iraq war may be turning a corner, and Democrats lack enough votes to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate or override a presidential veto.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Congress has approved more than $412 billion for the war there, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Most of the money has paid for military operations, while $25 billion went to diplomatic operations and foreign aid. About $19 billion has gone toward training Iraqi security forces.