US Senate approves $91.3bn war funds bill
Washington, May 22, 2009
The US Senate has approved a $91.3 billion measure that president Barack Obama sought to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting some of his priorities but leaving out funding to close the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Senate voted 86-3 and now must work out differences with the House of Representatives, which approved a $96.7 billion version of the bill. A single measure is expected to be hammered out and ultimately pass Congress in the coming weeks.
Once approved it will likely bring the U.S. cost of the two wars to over $900 billion.
The Senate bill includes $22 billion for military hardware like F-22 fighter jets, $4.2 billion for armored vehicles to protect soldiers from explosive devices, and $1.5 billion to address a global disease pandemic after the swine flu scare.
It also meets Obama's request to extend up to $108 billion in credit lines to the International Monetary Fund as it tries to help countries mired in the global financial crisis and backs the IMF's plan to sell 400 tons (12.97 million ounces) of gold.
However, Senate Democrats bucked their president by joining Republicans to drop $80 million they had included at his request to begin closing the controversial Guantanamo prison camp on a U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Defence secretary Robert Gates last month pressed Congress to complete the war funding bill by May 25 or his department could run out of aid for Pakistan this month and potentially run out of other funds for some military operations by July.
Congress will miss that deadline because the House and Senate must still work out their differences and lawmakers are due to leave Friday for a weeklong break for the Memorial Day holiday.
"We've checked with the Pentagon and they're satisfied that if we finish this when we get back there will be adequate time to fund everything that our troops need," said Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Key differences include the provisions for the IMF. The House left out the funding entirely and House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey has expressed strong reservations about including it.
"I am very, very reluctant to support any additional funding for the IMF... so long as the Europeans continue to be as modest as they are in terms of their actions on the stimulus front," Obey said during a hearing.
The Senate rejected an attempt by some Republicans to strip the provisions for the IMF money and support for the gold sale. But they agree to an amendment for consultations and reports to Congress about the IMF.
The House and Senate also differed on how much economic aid to give Pakistan.
They both provide $400 million to help train Pakistan's counterinsurgency forces as they try to battle militant Taliban fighters spilling over its border with Afghanistan. But the Senate offered Pakistan $500 million in economic aid while the House offered almost $600 million.
The House added $3.1 billion for the Pentagon to buy eight Boeing C-17 military transport aircraft and 11 Lockheed Martin C-130 transport planes, but the Senate did not.
Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison initially tried to push an amendment aimed at giving some 789 Chrysler dealerships that are being closed more time to unload their inventories.
She dropped her effort after the bankrupt automaker pledged to help those dealers beyond a June 9 deadline it had imposed.
Senators also agreed to include a provision that would block the release of photographs of detainee abuses under the Freedom of Information Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union has spent years suing the government for the release of the pictures. That provision also was absent from the House bill.-Reuters