Congress OKs bill that will help Defense avoid furloughs

After months of deliberation, the House gave final approval Tuesday to a $59 billion war supplemental spending bill, the last step before sending the package to President Obama for his signature.

The House passed the measure, 308-114, with 160 Republicans and 148 Democrats voting in favor of the bill. More than 100 liberal Democrats opposed the legislation, as did 12 Republicans.

Last week Army, Air Force and Navy officials signaled they would have to furlough civilians if the bill did not pass soon, and noted the problems could extend to some military pay if lawmakers dragged their feet into September.

The Senate passed the package in May, but before the Independence Day recess House Democrats led by Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., added $23 billion to the Senate bill, including $10 billion to keep teachers on the job.

Last week the Senate sent the supplemental back to the House after failing to win enough support to cut off debate on the House version. The Senate action came after the White House had issued a veto threat on the House measure over an $800 million rescission to education programs that Obey used to help offset the $23 billion domestic spending portion.

Obey, a longtime war critic who is not seeking re-election, was among the liberals who opposed the package, as were House Rules Committee Chairwoman Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who could succeed Obey as full committee chairman, voted for the measure. "It's clear that we have to pass this bill, this supplemental, today," Dicks said before the vote. "Get this behind us as we move to the 2011 bill."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., also pushed for passage. "While I wish we could have sent the bill to the president sooner, passage of this bill today will ensure that funding is provided to the Department of Defense without operational disruptions," he said.

Last week Skelton wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to schedule a vote soon on a "bipartisan" measure that can pass -- a move that appeared to break with top House Democrats including House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Obey, who had pushed for the domestic spending in the House package.

Republicans criticized Democrats for trying to use the war funding bill to increase domestic spending.

"The package we're considering today is, ironically, the very same clean emergency spending package the Senate approved on May 27 -- precisely two months ago," said Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. "The delay in passing this legislation was caused by one thing and only one thing -- the House Democrat majority's continuing and unwavering appetite for spending."

The $59 billion bill includes $32.8 billion for the Defense Department for war operations, primarily in Afghanistan, and $6.2 billion for State Department programs and foreign aid, including $1.32 billion for State operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and aid for Haiti. The package also includes $13.4 billion in mandatory spending for the Veterans Affairs Department to help Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and $5.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund.

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