WASHINGTON – Despite Democrats' rising anxiety about Afghanistan, the House on Thursday easily passed a $96.7 billion measure filling President Barack Obama's request for war spending and foreign aid efforts there and in Iraq.
Some 51 Democrats broke with Obama, who is sending thousands more troops into Afghanistan, but all but a handful of Republicans stood behind the president to produce a 368-60 tally. Republicans supported the measure even though majority Democrats added almost $12 billion to Obama's $85 billion request.
The measure would boost total funding provided by Congress for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars above $900 billion.
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Across Capitol Hill, a key Senate committee approved a companion $91.3 billion bill that sticks closely to Obama's war request — including $50 million for the Pentagon to begin the promised closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The issue of closing Guantanamo is addressed in the House measure as well — not with funding but with a promise that detainees from the prison will not be released on U.S. soil. A new provision, however, anticipates some of the 241 detainees at Guantanamo will be transferred to the United States to stand trial or serve their sentences.
A separate conflict over the war-funding measure concerns whether it should provide a $108 billion U.S. contribution to the International Monetary Fund as part of an expanded $500 billion IMF loan fund, a cornerstone of last month's Group of 20 nations summit in London to assist poor countries struggling through the global economic downturn.
Obama officially requested the IMF funding late Tuesday, and the request was immediately incorporated into the Senate version by Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. The IMF funds would cost U.S. taxpayers about $5 billion since the government is issued interest-bearing assets in return for the contribution.
House Republicans oppose adding the IMF funds to the war-funding measure, and their votes will be needed to pass the final House-Senate compromise bill, given the opposition of anti-war Democrats.
As for the military spending, during the Bush administration many Democrats stressed their opposition to the war in Iraq while supporting efforts against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But an increasing number of party liberals are skeptical of success in Afghanistan.
Chief among them is Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., author of the House legislation as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. But for now he's giving Obama a chance to demonstrate greater progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"This is a bill that I have very little confidence in," Obey said. "I think we have a responsibility to give a new president — who did not get us into this mess — the best possible opportunity to get out of it."
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is opposing the infusion of war funds. He's not impressed with Obama's plans on Afghanistan.
"Sometimes great presidents make mistakes, and sometimes great presidents make even great mistakes. I hope that doesn't happen here," McGovern said. "As the mission has grown bigger, the policy has grown even more vague."
Both the House and Senate measures largely follow Obama's military request for the wars. But the House version adds $11.8 billion, including almost $4 billion for new weapons and military equipment such as cargo planes, mine-resistant vehicles, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker armored vehicles. The measure also adds $2.2 billion to Obama's request for foreign aid — much of which appears to be designed to get around spending limits for 2010.
The $91.3 billion Senate measure includes Obama's $1.5 billion emergency request to fight a potential flu pandemic, while the House would add about $500 million to the request — even as the recent swine flu scare appears to be abating.
On Guantanamo, the Senate measure includes $50 million to begin closing the prison but directs that it can't be used to transfer any of the detainees into the United States. The House bill, which does not include such money, sets a policy forbidding release of Guantanamo detainees within the United States. It would allow them to be shipped to the U.S. to stand trial or to serve their sentences.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted unanimously in favor of its version of the spending bill.
Most of that money, about $73 billion, would go to the Defense Department to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the extra 21,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan.
The measure is $1.3 billion more than the president requested, much of which was absorbed by $489 million sought by Mississippi Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker to restore barrier islands along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and restore ecosystems such as salt marshes to protect the coast.
Despite the panel's unanimous endorsement, several Republicans said they plan to try to amend the bill to strip out $50 million included in the measure to close Guantanamo.
"It is misguided to close a facility housing terrorists when there is no plan," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.