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Congress sends $106B war-spending bill to Obama

Congress on Thursday sent President Barack Obama a massive spending bill aimed at ensuring that the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan won't run out of money in the coming months.

The $106 billion emergency war bill also branches off to provide money for programs ranging from pandemic flupreparedness to a "cash for clunkers" initiative to encourage drivers to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Senate passed the measure on a one-sided 91-5 vote despite complaints from several senators about theadd-ons that pushed the total more than $20 billion above the funding request Obama made two months ago. TheHouse approved the bill on Wednesday by a much closer 226-202 vote.

The White House and its Democratic allies insisted that this will be the last time Congress will be compelled topass an emergency war bill, or supplemental, that is outside the normal budget process and thus goes directly toan increase in the national debt.

Congress has passed such bills every year since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with enactment of thislegislation the amount will near $1 trillion, with about 70 percent going to the conflict in Iraq. Obama has said that in the future all war operation expenses will be incorporated in the Defense Departmentbudget.

The bill includes about $80 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through this fiscal year that endsSept. 30. The Pentagon has predicted that the Army could begin running out of money for personnel andoperations as early as July without the infusion of more money.

It also provides $4.5 billion, $1.9 billion above what the president requested, for lightweight mine-resistantvehicles, called MRAPs, and $2.7 billion for eight C-17 and seven C-130 cargo planes that the Pentagon did not askfor.

On the nonmilitary front, there's $10.4 billion in development and other aid for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan andnumerous other countries; $7.7 billion for pandemic flu preparedness; and $721 million to pay off what the U.S.owes for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

What it does not include is $80 million the White House requested to start effort to close the detention facility atGuantanamo Bay, Cuba. The bill also prohibits detainees from being released in the United States and allows thetransfer of detainees for prosecution only after Congress receives a plan detailing the risks.

The bill almost foundered in the House over Republican objections to the inclusion of $5 billion to set up a U.S.line of credit for an International Monetary Fund loan program for poor countries hit by the world recession.

In the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others threatened to hold up the bill because the finalHouse-Senate compromise removed a provision prohibiting the release of photos showing U.S. troops abusingdetainees.

Graham ended his objections after the Senate approved a separate bill banning publication of the photos and theWhite House assured him that Obama would classify the photos to prevent their release.

The final obstacle was removed earlier Thursday when the Senate voted 60-36 to waive a procedural objection bySen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., against the $1 billion for the "cash for clunkers" program. Sixty votes were needed toprevent Gregg from succeeding and sending the bill back to the House for another vote.

"Why should our grandchildren have to pay for cars we're going to buy today from people?" Gregg asked. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also said the bill "contains billions of dollars in unrequested spending that is largelyunjustified and is certainly non-emergency." In addition to the auto program providing government rebates forthose trading in old cars for more fuel-efficient models, he mentioned $13 million to provide air service to ruralcommunities and $35 million for the FBI to fight mortgage fraud.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged support for the package, saying it was not just a matter ofnumbers. "This bill also contains our commitment to strengthening our military, rebuilding our relationships withkey allies around the world and reducing key security threats," he said.

Voting against the bill were Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; Russ Feingold,D-Wis.; and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

------ The bill is H.R. 2346 ------ On the Net: Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov

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