Congress sends wartime funding bill to Bush

Congress gave final approval Thursday to a $120 billion supplemental spending bill funding military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of the fiscal year.

The measure also provides farmers and ranchers with assistance to cope with drought and other natural disasters, continued hurricane recovery aid for the Gulf Coast, and the first minimum wage increase since 1997.

After a long struggle between President Bush and congressional Democrats, Bush said he would sign the bill because it dropped timelines for withdrawing troops from combat zones. Democrats did not have the votes to override a veto.

"It's a political reality. It is not what we want to pass," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, although Democrats said they would come back later this year to press the issue again. Democrats did force Bush into accepting billions of dollars in unrelated spending in exchange, although they dropped a few items he had objected to.

"I wanted to remove even more; but, still, by voting for this bill members of both parties can show our troops and the Iraqis and the enemy that our country will support our servicemen and women in harm's way," Bush said Thursday.

In the place of timelines, Democrats included 18 benchmarks for the Iraqi government to demonstrate progress toward stabilizing the country. It also would tie economic aid to Iraq to progress in meeting the benchmarks, although the president could waive the restriction.

House Democratic leaders structured the debate in such a way as to allow separate votes on Bush's funding request coupled with the benchmarks, and on portions providing additional military and veterans' funds as well as domestic priorities.

Many Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., voted against the Bush request but for the roughly $17 billion in domestic and other items.

"This proposition falls far short of containing everything that it should on both the Iraqi war and our own domestic needs, but I take some comfort in the knowledge that even Babe Ruth struck out more than 1,300 times," Obey said.

The domestic portion was added on a 348-73 vote; Bush's funding request was approved 280-142. Later in the evening, the Senate voted 80-14 to send the combined measure to Bush's desk.

Republicans complained of delay in getting the troop funding passed, as well as the added spending and being shut out of the negotiations. Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said the debate has been "long on politics and short on substance" marked by "symbolic votes to placate the 'Out of Iraq' caucus."

"I'm deeply dismayed that this legislation was written completely without input from the minority," Lewis said. "They made a decision early on not only to abandon our troops but to abandon any semblance of bipartisanship."

Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, took issue with matters in his panel's jurisdiction, such as small business tax cuts and language delaying by one year Medicaid regulations the administration says could save $5 billion. He also criticized pension relief for American and Continental airlines and other pension provisions, arguing they should go through the regular authorizing process.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said inclusion of minimum wage, pension provisions and spending unrelated to the war was a "sneaky way to do business."

Democrats did cut $4.2 billion out of the initial bill Bush vetoed earlier this month, and numerous areas were subject to the pain. The farm aid was pared back nearly 15 percent, while homeland security funding was cut by more than half.

Avian flu and low-income heating funds were dropped entirely, and even the military portion took a hit.

Smaller cuts were made to wildland firefighting, overseas food aid and repairs to a NASA facility in Mississippi. Democrats found room to add $40 million for tornado damage in Kansas and $19 million for flooding in New York and New Jersey, as well as $60 million for Pacific Northwest salmon fishermen, $13 million for mine safety and $18 million for Western drought aid.

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