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US Congress OKs $87.5b for Iraq, Afghanistan
( 2003-11-04 09:27) (Agencies)

U.S. Congress voted its final approval Monday for $87.5 billion for U.S. military operations and aid in Iraq and Afghanistan, a day after Americans in Iraq endured their worst casualties since March.

In an anticlimactic moment for which only a handful of senators appeared, the Senate approved the bill by voice and handed a legislative victory to U.S. President Bush, who had requested a similar package two months ago. The voice vote ! in which Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was the only one to shout "Nay" ! let lawmakers sidestep the roll call that usually accompanies major legislation.

That underscored the complicated political calculus presented by the measure, which was dominated by popular funds for U.S. forces but also sparked questions about Bush's postwar Iraq policies and record budget deficits at home.

"As the president said time and time again, we will not walk away from Iraq," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a leading author of the bill. "We will not leave the Iraqi people in chaos, and we will not create a vacuum for terrorist groups to fill."

In the latest blow to Iraq's U.S. occupiers, 19 American troops were killed there on Sunday. That included 16 who died when a missile brought down a U.S. Army transport helicopter west of Baghdad, a crash in which 21 other Americans were wounded.

On Monday, Bush brought a crowd to its feet in Birmingham, Ala., when he declared: "The enemy in Iraq believes America will run ... America will never run."

The president did not mention it specificially, but it was clear that the Americans killed in Sunday's crash were on the minds of the people gathered for his speech.

"Some of the best have fallen in service to our fellow Americans," he said. "We mourn every loss. We honor every name. We grieve with every family. And we will always be grateful that liberty has found such brave defenders."

Sunday's shoot-down in Iraq allowed critics of Bush's leadership of the war to argue anew that he should have done more to win commitments of troops and resources from other countries.

"Every day, when we see these bloody headlines of American soldiers being killed, we are reminded that had this been a global coalition, ... what we're facing today could have been so much different," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Even so, Durbin and several others who criticized Bush during Monday's debate said they would support the bill as the best way to protect U.S. troops and expedite the day when Americans can leave Iraq.

One who said he opposed the bill was Byrd, top Democrat on the Appropriations panel. In some of the day's strongest words, he called the bill a "monument to failure," citing the lack of help from allies and persistent U.S. casualties.

The measure was the second massive package for Iraq and combating terror that Bush has requested and Congress has produced in less than seven months.

In April, they enacted a $79 billion package that included $62.4 billion for the war in Iraq, which had just begun, plus other money for Afghanistan, tightened security at home and help for financially ailing U.S. airlines.

The House cleared the most recent bill Friday by 298-121. Most of its money is for the federal budget year that runs through Sept. 30, though some of it is for a longer term.

Largely following the outlines of an $87 billion package that Bush requested on Sept. 7, the bill includes $64.7 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Most of that ! $51 billion ! was for American troops in Iraq, while another $10 billion was for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The money includes everything from salaries owed reservists called to active duty to buying aircraft parts, missiles and thousands of extra sets of body armor for ground troops.

In the starkest departure from Bush's proposal, there is $18.6 billion ! $1.7 billion below the president's plan ! for retooling Iraq's economy and government. This included funds for clinics, power and water supplies and training police officers and entrepreneurs.

Dropped, however, was money that critics said was wasteful or at least not needed urgently. This included money Bush wanted for ZIP and telephone area codes; a children's hospital in Basra, which is patrolled by British troops; sanitation trucks; and restoration of drained marshlands.

Though Bush got less than he wanted for Iraqi aid, the White House fended off lawmakers of both parties who had forced a provision through the Senate making half the aid to Iraq a loan.

House-Senate bargainers killed that language last week, leaving the aid a grant that Baghdad will not have to repay.

The bill also has $1.2 billion for buttressing Afghanistan; $500 million for helping victims of U.S. natural disasters, such as Hurricane Isabel and California's wildfires; and $245 million for international peacekeeping efforts in Liberia.

Money also was included to expand Arabic-language broadcasts into Iraq, secure U.S. diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan, provide rewards for the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and aid Pakistan and other U.S. allies.

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