WASHINGTON The Senate voted today to give President Bush $50 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. military efforts against terrorism, money that would push total spending for the operations beyond $350 billion.
In a 97-0 vote, the GOP-controlled Senate signed off on the money as part of a $445 billion military spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1. The measure would also put restrictions on the treatment of detainees who are suspected terrorists a provision that has drawn a White House veto threat and demonstrated a willingness by Republican lawmakers to challenge Bush.
Passage comes at a time when public support for Bush and the Iraq fighting has slipped, U.S. casualties have climbed and Congress has grown increasingly frustrated with the direction of the conflict.
The Senate bill provides $5 billion more for the wars than the House version. The final bill is expected to include the full $50 billion extra after House-Senate negotiators work out their differences over the coming weeks.
It s absolutely necessary to support our people who are in the field, both in uniform and who do intelligence work throughout the world, said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee.
Senators rushed to finish the bill before leaving Friday for a 10-day recess because military officers have informally told them they will need the money by mid-November to continue war operations. The Bush administration has not formally requested more war money, but costs are certain with no end to the Iraq conflict in sight.
Stevens said the $50 billion should last through the first half of the year, but acknowledged that Congress likely will have to approve more money for wars in May or June.
Overall, both the Senate and House bills provide for a 3.1 percent pay raise for the military and increased benefits for troops. But the bills differ in other areas.
Bucking the White House, the Senate added an amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to ban cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment against anyone in U.S. government custody. The amendment also would standardize how service members detain and interrogate terrorism suspects by requiring the military to follow the Army Field Manual that outlines acceptable techniques. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
The Senate action shows that members of the president s own party are concerned about his wartime policies. Their worries reflect those of their skeptical constituents. Public opinion polls show declining American support for the war that has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,940 U.S. military members.
Bush administration officials say the provision would limit the president s authority and flexibility, and the White House says advisers would recommend a veto of the entire spending bill if it includes provisions that would hurt efforts in the war on terror.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday that some of the wording about detainees was unnecessary and duplicative, and that the administration hoped to press the concerns with congressional negotiators.
Support for the provision in the GOP-controlled House is unclear.
Stevens said he will try to tweak the language in House-Senate negotiations to makes sure that it doesn t endanger the lives of non-military intelligence officials who work for the United States. I m talking about people who aren t in uniform, may or may not be citizens of the United States, but are working for us in very difficult circumstances, he said.
The Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for lawmakers, says the Pentagon is spending about $6 billion a month for Iraq and $1 billion for Afghanistan, and war costs could total $570 billion by the end of 2010, assuming troops are gradually brought home.
CRS analysts say that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress has given the president about $311 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan and securing U.S. bases. About $280 billion has gone to the Pentagon, while $31 billion has been provided for foreign and diplomatic operations.
Excluding the $50 billion in war money and $5 billion in emergency money the Senate added, the bill totals $390 billion about $7 billion less than what the president had requested for the Defense Department. The House bill totals $364 billion, but it is not directly comparable to the Senate version.
Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.