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US House of Representatives Approves Iraq, Afghanistan Funding Measure

After months of negotiations, a $162-billion measure to pay for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is headed for congressional approval. The vote in Congress late Thursday was 268 to 155. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, compromises were required by majority Democrats, minority Republicans, and the White House, after a year and a half standoff over the supplemental spending bill.

Acting on a measure approved by the Senate in May, but modified in last minute-negotiations in the House, lawmakers approved $162 billion for the Pentagon to support military operations Democrats succeeded in adding billions for an expanded GI Bill with education benefits for military veterans, enhanced unemployment benefits for Americans. Republicans joined in supporting veterans provisions, and disaster aid for U.S. flood zones, and for repairs of levees in Louisiana.

Absent is controversial language that led to confrontation and presidential vetos in the past, such as provisions setting a timetable or goal of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked by reporters before the House vote whether this could be considered a failure by Democrats:

"It is the Republicans in the Senate who enable this policy, and it is the President of the United States who has their, who are complicit, they are complicit with the president to make sure he never has to get a bill on his desk with a timeline [for withdrawal from Iraq], because the American people want a timeline and his vetoing it is an unpopular move for him," said Nancy Pelosi.

The measure, which pushes out of regular budget war funding to well over $600 billion, does include a requirement that future U.S. reconstruction aid for Iraq be matched by the Iraqi government.

It also prohibits funds from being used to establish permanent bases in Iraq, something the Bush administration denies is being planned.

Anti-war Democrats voiced frustration, with many saying they would vote against the measure.

Member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Barbara Lee, decried the lack of provisions to require that Congress approve bilateral agreements being negotiated with Iraq, while John Lewis spoke out emotionally against the measure:

LEE: "There is no way, now way, I will vote to continue funding any combat operations in Iraq. This funding needs to end."

LEWIS: "I will not vote for another dollar, another dime, another nickel, another penny, for this war!"

Republicans praised bipartisan cooperation, but Indiana's Mike Pence took Democrats to task for their insistence on adding money for domestic needs.

"Despite all the promises to the country about putting our fiscal house in order, here we are again with a massive amount of increased domestic spending with nary a thought to how we are going to pay for it, passing the burden on to future generations of Americans," said Congressman Pence.

Democrat's division of the bill into two separate votes, gave those on the far left of the party the opportunity to vote against the war, but for domestic needs.

Congressional passage of the bill, after Senate action and the president's likely signature, marks the last supplemental lawmakers will act on before the November presidential election.

With pressure taken off the Pentagon to sustain operations in both war zones, it will then be up to either Democratic Senator Barack Obama or Republican Senator John McCain to decide on a future course regarding both Iraq and Afghanistan.