The US Senate late on Tuesday approved a half-trillion-dollar budget bill for next year that includes US$70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, handing a major victory to US President George W. Bush.
The Senate voted 70-25 to approve the catch-all budget bill but added extra war funds after the House of Representatives version passed on Monday included US$31 billion solely for US-led efforts in Afghanistan but none for Iraq.
The Senate version does not include any of the restrictions that Democrats hoped to pin on the release of war funds, such as linking them to a withdrawal date for US troops. The bill returned to the House for a vote yesterday on the war funding portion added by the Senate.
Amid deep differences with the Congress over the Iraq war, the White House had threatened to veto the entire spending bill if it contained no funding for Iraq.
"Obviously, the full funding that we requested since February is what the troops need -- not just what they want, but what they need. But this will help us get through this period," said Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Democrats, who took over the US Congress in last year's elections fueled by anger at the war in Iraq, have tried without success to use their power of the purse to impose a timetable for withdrawal from the strife-torn country where nearly 4,000 US troops have died since the March 2003 invasion.
Democrats reportedly also gave up several billion dollars' worth of other budget demands rejected by Bush in order to see the spending measure passed before the year-end recess. They have also been concerned about being seen as unsupportive of US troops in battle at Christmas.
Democratic House majority leader Steny Hoyer told CNN that the House initially passed the US$31 billion in funding for Afghanistan "so that we could confront terrorism and defeat the Taliban which was, after all, the site from which this country was attacked and which, frankly, we have distracted our attention from."
The package, known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, includes 11 of 12 annual appropriations bills, leaving out defense which has already been approved by lawmakers.
Among other things, the bill funds veterans' health care, emergency spending on border security, firefighting to tackle massive wildfires on the West Coast, bridge repair and even funds for peacekeeping in Darfur.
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who introduced the amendment to add funding for the Iraq war, said the House version "underfunds" troops in Iraq and hailed the advances made by General David Petraeus' plan to "surge" the number of US troops.
"Since the implementation of the Petraeus Plan, we've marveled at the improving security situation in and around Baghdad. Attacks on US troops are down. Civilian casualties in Baghdad are down 75 percent," he said.
"Even those of us who have disagreed on this war have always agreed on one thing: troops in the field will not be left without the resources they need," he said.
However, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy voiced his opposition to the Republican plan.
"It's wrong for Congress to write still another blank check to the president for the war. It's obvious that President Bush wants to drag this process out month after month, so he can hand off his Iraqi policy to the next president," Kennedy said.
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