The House of Representatives has approved, by a vote of 351 to 67, $70 billion in new funding in support of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote comes a few days before a House debate on Iraq that majority Republicans hope will convey a message of support for the new government in Baghdad.
For several years, U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded through special emergency supplemental spending bills Congress approves after receiving requests from the White House.
The legislation approved Tuesday is no exception, with just over $70 billion of the total $94.5 billion devoted to the needs of American soldiers fighting to support the new governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill is the product of difficult negotiations with the Senate to produce a compromise resolving differences between versions passed much earlier by both chambers of Congress.
A Senate version had included additional money for U.S. port and border security and other purposes, exceeding a limit set by President Bush, who threatened to veto any final measure that did not keep spending to about the $94 billion level.
Although most House Democrats supported the compromise legislation, many used the occasion to renew complaints about how the Bush administration has funded the war, and its overall handling of Iraq.
"The very idea that we are once again funding the conflict through a supplemental spending bill is both dishonest and dishonorable," said Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York. "It is part of a massive effort to hide the true cost of the war from the public because supplemental spending bills are not counted in the [regular] budget. They therefore don't increase our national deficits on paper, even though they do increase them in reality."
In defense, Republicans pointed to the recent killing of the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, by the U.S. military as progress, saying the United States has no choice but to remain engaged in Iraq.
"We have to realize that the action that was taken last week was in fact a blow to the issue of terrorism, which is one we have to deal with on a regular basis, and daily," said David Dreier, a California Republican.
House approval of the supplemental bill, which also contains money for hurricane victims in the U.S. Gulf Coast, sends the compromise measure back to the Senate which is expected to quickly approve and then send the measure to President Bush for signature.
Debate on the Iraq-Afghanistan spending measure provided a preview of what is expected to be a heated separate debate on Iraq that majority Republicans have scheduled for the House on Thursday.
Republicans have drafted a resolution declaring that the United States will complete the mission in Iraq and prevail in the global war on terror, and stating that setting an arbitrary date for withdrawing troops is not in the interest of the United States.
Last year, Republicans forced a similar debate in an attempt to blunt the impact of a call by a prominent pro-defense Democrat, Congressman John Murtha, for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq within six months.