Funding for war is sent to Bush

Senate gives final OK to $87.4 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan

Republicans call it act of resolve

Democrats question lives, money spent amid rising danger, waning support

November 04, 2003|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In the face of more bloody news of American deaths and casualties in Iraq, the Senate approved and sent President Bush an $87.4 billion emergency war spending bill yesterday, closing a contentious chapter in the congressional debate over the conflict.

Lawmakers who had been divided over the huge measure allowed it to pass without a recorded vote, in a sign that its political momentum might have superseded the reservations that Democrats and some Republicans had about spending such a large sum on a mission that has been steadily losing public support.

"I commend Congress for providing vital funds to support our mission and our troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere," Bush said in a statement released by the White House last night. He said he would sign the measure, which closely tracks with his request, this week. It passed the House on Friday, 298-121.

Many Republicans hailed the action as a sign of stiff resolve by the American people to, as Bush has repeatedly urged, stay the course in Iraq.

"We will not walk away from Iraq, we will not withdraw our forces from Iraq, we will not leave the Iraqi people in chaos, and we will not create a vacuum for terrorist groups to fill," said Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "We finish what we start, and we will not fail to do so now."

But the day after the deadliest attack on U.S. troops since the start of the war, Democrats continued to voice mounting concern about conditions in Iraq and uneasiness about approving huge new sums to fund an increasingly dangerous mission there. Final passage of the measure came as lawmakers digested the somber news of the missile attack Sunday on a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which killed 16 soldiers.

The emergency spending measure is "just money - the real costs of war are in human lives," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "Today in one of the darkest hours, with some of the saddest news, it is difficult to look at this and understand how even money is going to solve our problems."

Violence continued in Iraq yesterday, when a blast erupted near a Shiite Muslim shrine in the southern city of Karbala. The Associated Press quoted witnesses as saying at least one person was killed and 12 were injured. In addition, three mortar rounds hit Baghdad. There were no reported casualties.

And a soldier with the 4th Infantry Division was killed and another wounded in an explosion of an improvised bomb near Tikrit, the U.S. Central Command said.

Such incidents have sparked calls from prominent lawmakers in both parties for more troops in Iraq. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Sunday that more U.S. and international soldiers might be needed to stabilize the nation.

"Both may be required," Lugar told CBS. "We have to win the war on the security situation. It's still a war. It's not a withdrawal situation."

The spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan contains $64.7 billion for military operations and $19.8 billion for reconstruction, $18.6 billion of which is for Iraq. Congress trimmed Bush's rebuilding request for Iraq by $1.7 billion, slashing such proposed expenditures as garbage trucks, business courses, a ZIP code system, marsh restoration projects and prison construction.

At the urging of Senate Democrats, lawmakers included in the final measure $100 million to investigate unsecured stockpiles of conventional weapons, such as the shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile that is widely suspected of bringing down the Chinook on Sunday. That's on top of $600 million the Bush administration requested for continuing the search for weapons of mass destruction, which has so far been unsuccessful.

One provision that failed would have represented a potentially harsh rebuke from Congress of Bush's postwar plans in Iraq - it would have turned half of the reconstruction money into a loan, instead of a grant.

The Senate attached such a condition to its version of the spending measure, and a majority of House members, whose leaders omitted it from their draft, voted to support the idea in a nonbinding test vote.

The widespread backing for the loan proposal was seen by many as a sign that uneasiness among the American public about the cost and progress of the Iraq mission was beginning to influence their representatives in Congress -both Republican and Democrat.

White House pressure

But under pressure from the Bush administration, which threatened a veto if the loan provision survived, Republicans backed down during House-Senate negotiations last week. The president contended that the United States should not pile additional debt on Iraq, which already owes more than $200 billion to other nations.

Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who supported the loan provision, said she was "very disappointed" that it was dropped.

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