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US Senate Fails to Approve Funding Bill for Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

The U.S. Senate has failed to approve additional funding that the Bush administration wants for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto criticized the Democratic-led Senate for not approving President Bush's $196 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before lawmakers left on a two-week recess, and he urged them to act when they return:

"Our troops deserve this funding, they need it, and we call on Congress to deliver it as soon as possible," he said.

Republicans blocked a $50 billion spending bill backed by Democrats, because it also included a plan for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by December of next year. The vote was 53 to 45, seven votes short of the 60 needed to pass under Senate rules.

President Bush had vowed to veto any legislation that contained a troop withdrawal timetable.

Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, had urged passage of the measure as a way to change the course of the war.

"The Senate has an opportunity with this next vote to start to bring this war to an end, and to start to bring our soldiers home in an orderly, responsible way," he said.

The measure was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week.

In a separate vote, Senate Democrats blocked a $70 billion funding measure sponsored by Republicans. That vote was also 53 to 45, also 7 votes short of the 60 needed.

Republicans argued the Democrats' action in blocking the bill would undermine progress being made on the battlefield since President Bush boosted the number of troops in Iraq.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, spoke ahead of the vote.

"What we are about to do is take one of the most successful military operations in American history by any measure, the surge, and undercut it by one of the most dysfunctional Congresses in American history by denying the funding to the troops in the field who have performed," he said.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat argued strongly against the bill, saying the troop surge was aimed at stabilizing Iraq to allow for political reconciliation, and that has not happened.

"Our troops continue to fight and die valiantly, and our treasury continues to be depleted rapidly for a peace that we seem far more interested in achieving than Iraq's own political leaders," he said.

Democratic leaders say there will be no more "blank checks", as they put it, for the war in Iraq. They say they may not revisit the issue until January.

But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned lawmakers this week that unless Congress approves the money this month, he will order plans to lay off civilian employees, cut base operations, and terminate contracts early next year.

Congressional Democrats argue the Defense Department can shift funds to the war effort from other accounts.

Secretary Gates says he does not have funds or enough flexibility to move the money to adequately cover the costs of continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.