Senate Panel Approves $59 Billion for Iraq, Afghanistan Wars, Disaster Aid
A Senate panel unanimously passed a $59 billion war-funding bill that would bring total spending on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to more than $1.1 trillion.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 30-0 for the measure, which would provide $33.5 billion for military operations, including President Barack Obama’s troop buildup in Afghanistan.
“This bill is neither a bailout or a stimulus,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat. “It is the minimum necessary to meet emergency requirements and the cost of war.”
The measure includes $68 million to help pay cleanup costs from the oil spill at a BP Plc well in the Gulf of Mexico. “We all understand that more will be needed,” Inouye said.
It would set aside $6 billion for diplomatic and foreign- aid programs and $5 billion for disaster assistance in Tennessee, Rhode Island and other areas.
The package also includes $13 billion for Vietnam veterans affected by Agent Orange, an herbicide used to defoliate forests during the Vietnam conflict. That money is aimed at accommodating a recent decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to increase the number of ailments presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange, according to a summary of the legislation.
Vote Next Week
Democrats aim to put the bill before the full Senate next week, with a goal of forwarding it to Obama’s desk by lawmakers’ Memorial Day recess.
That’s likely to prove a challenge because many Democrats are seeking to attach unrelated provisions. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin said he plans to offer an amendment providing $23 billion to states to prevent layoffs of teachers.
Democrats will probably need House Republicans to approve the bill because scores of their colleagues no longer support war funding. A war measure approved last May was opposed by more than 50 House Democrats.
Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the top Appropriations Committee Republican, warned Democrats against “adding billions in unrelated or unnecessary spending” that will “make our skyrocketing $1.5 trillion deficit even worse.” Inouye said other items could be justified “but to maintain necessary support” he is “committed to holding the line on spending.”
The measure would bring total war costs this year to more than $160 billion, more than what was spent annually during most of former President George W. Bush’s administration. War costs peaked in 2008 at $187 billion following the surge in Iraq before dropping last year to $155 billion. Obama said in December he was sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
The war funding includes $4.9 billion to replace helicopters lost in combat, purchase additional Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, and additional jamming devices designed to foil roadside bombs. Another $3.6 billion would go to train security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.