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New Funding for Iraq, Afghanistan Advances in US Congress

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a $91-billion spending bill, including $68-billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as money for hurricane relief. The vote was 348 to 71.

It is the latest in a series of special spending requests Congress has been asked to approve to support U.S. troops, upgrade equipment and strengthen defenses against improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The legislation also contains $4.8 billion for training of Iraqi and Afghan security forces.

This sixth supplemental pushes U.S. spending on Iraq and Afghanistan military operations, and the war on terrorism, to about $400 billion since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Debate reflected continuing divisions between Democrats and Republicans over Iraq and budget priorities.

Wisconsin Democrat David Obey says Americans remain divided and confused about U.S. objectives in Iraq.

"Three years after this war began, does anybody here really believe the president of the U.S., when he tells us this is all about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq? Four hundred billion dollars and then some [and more] later, does anybody believe that Congress did the right thing when Congress handed a blank check to the administration," he asked.

"The bill itself is ultimately about providing for the needs of American forces in the field, in combat, today, now," Republican Congressman Tom Cole responded. "We can debate whether the war was wise, whether it was conducted well, at our leisure. They need what they need immediately."

House Republican Majority leader John Boehner asserts that, while the situation in Iraq has been difficult, U.S. efforts are showing results.

"There is progress," he said. "Beyond the hot spots, the three or four hot spots in Iraq, the rest of the country is becoming more prosperous, there are more kids in school in Iraq than at any time in their history, their economy is beginning to come back. So, there is a lot of good news there. But, whenever you are at war, and you have got 135,000 of our young men and women overseas, it is unsettling to Americans. I think we understand that. But as I have said, we went there for the right reasons. We are there for the right reasons."

Boehner repeated criticisms of Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, calling his proposed resolution for Congress to censure President Bush for authorizing the National Security Agency anti-terror wiretapping program "a cheap political stunt."

In contrast to previous measures, the one approved Thursday underscores how far Republicans are now willing to go to defy President Bush.

The bill includes language formally blocking Dubai Ports World from operating or managing shipping terminals at U.S. ports.

Republicans insisted on including the provision, despite the United Arab Emirates company's agreement to transfer its American operations to a U.S. company.

"This is a national security issue," said Congressman Jerry Lewis, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. "This is a national security bill. Our goal is to ensure that security of our ports is in America's hands. It will also send a strong and unmistakable message that the Congress and the American people stand united on the critical national security issue that involves the ports."

The Dubai ports language could be stripped out later, when House and Senate lawmakers meet to reconcile differences between respective versions.

There was also intensive debate Thursday on the government's response to the needs of hurricane victims on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The $91 billion spending bill includes about $19 billion for reconstruction, pushing storm-related costs to about $100 billion.

Among numerous amendments approved by lawmakers is one adding $50 million to support peacekeeping efforts in Sudan's western Darfur region.