WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate is ready to give President Bush $50 billion more for wars even as public support for the Iraq fighting slips, U.S. casualties climb and Congress grows increasingly frustrated with the direction of the conflict.
Part of a $445 billion military spending bill for the budget year that began Oct. 1, the war money would pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and push funding for wars since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, beyond $350 billion.
Senate GOP leaders had hoped to vote on the bill Thursday so they could adjourn for a 10-day recess, but Sen. Mary Landrieu forced a one-day delay.
The Louisiana Democrat spent much of the evening arguing that the Senate, before leaving Washington, should allow $1 billion already approved for Hurricane Katrina relief to be spent on public employee salaries. Landrieu said the first vote upon the Senate’s return should be on redirecting an additional $14 billion for education, health care and small business relief.
“I know times are tough in Baghdad. But times are tough in the Gulf Coast,” Landrieu said. “Our war is right here at home. Our war is right here in the Gulf Coast.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said he supported Landrieu’s “wish list,” but did not believe Congress can enact it before its break.
The Senate, however, is expected to vote on the defense bill before adjourning. The bill provides $5 billion more for wars than the House version, but the final bill is expected to include $50 billion after House-Senate negotiators work out their differences.
While the Bush administration hasn’t asked for more war money, lawmakers say they can’t wait for a formal request and military officers have told them they will need the money by mid-November to continue operations. With no end to the war in sight, costs are sure to keep climbing.
Both the Senate and House versions 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 on Wednesday approved 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. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
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.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said 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.
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. Opinion polls show declining support for the war in Iraq, which has claimed more than 1,940 members of the U.S. military.
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 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 new money, the Senate bill totals $395 billion _ about $2 billion less than what the president had requested for the Defense Department.