- Afghanistan - Iraq - military - US Congress
The US House of Representatives approved Thursday a compromise bill to free up 162 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stripped of a timetable to pull US troops out of Iraq.
The bill was approved after Democrats and Republicans hammered out a deal following weeks of partisan haggling, angering peace activists seeking a swift end to the war in Iraq.
The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, would finance the military operations through mid 2009.
Before the vote, White House Budget Director Jim Nussle said the bill "meets the president's requirements."
The deal was reached after Democrats agreed to keep a withdrawal timetable off the bill. The majority party has repeatedly failed to force President George W. Bush's hand on Iraq since taking over Congress in 2006 elections.
But Democrats insisted on inserting a modern version of the post-World War II GI Bill in order to expand education benefits to veterans, a plan that Senate Republicans and the White House had opposed.
The legislation also calls on the Iraqi government to spend as much money as US taxpayers for reconstruction and bars the Bush administration from using the funding to establish permanent bases in Iraq.
The war funding section of the bill passed by a 268-155 vote, with only 80 Democrats voting in favor along with 188 Republicans.
The veterans' benefits part of the legislation, which also included a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and aid for Midwest flood victims, was overwhelmingly approved, 416 to 12.
The overall bill was approved in a voice vote.
"This legislation is not perfect. No legislation is," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "But it will provide for our troops in the field, while addressing critical priorities here at home."
"Whether you agree or disagree with the president's decision to launch the war in Iraq, with the prosecution of this war, or with the president's stay-the-course strategy, I believe the American people want us to provide our troops with the resources they need to defend themselves," he said.
House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner called the bill "a real victory."
"It gets our troops the funding they need for success, without ham-stringing our commanders in the field with politically motivated war restrictions," he said.
Republican presidential contender John McCain, a staunch backer of the war in Iraq, hailed the bill but took a swipe at the Democrats.
"I am pleased an agreement has finally been reached to fund our troops," the Arizona senator said.
"It is unfortunate that for months, the Democrat-controlled Congress has placed partisan politics over essential war funding needs, demonstrating an unconscionable lack of concern for the welfare of our combat troops in the field."
McCain's Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, has vowed to withdraw troops from Iraq.
The compromise legislation angered leftist peace activists, who argued that Democrats won control of Congress in the 2006 election with a mandate to pull troops out of Iraq.
"We're disgusted that behind closed doors, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have conspired with the White House to keep this war going well into the next administration," said Medea Benjamin of the anti-war Code Pink group.
"This is a complete betrayal of the American people who voted for a new Congress in 2006," she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the compromise, saying the priority was to protect the interests of US troops.
"Well, first of all, you don't do everything in one bill," Pelosi said. "Now among those members who would not be happy about the bill not having date certain, count me among them."
"The president simply will not sign such legislation," she said. "Our troops are in harm's way. They need to be taken care of."
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the funding will help the president meet his obligation to members of the armed forces on the battlefield and their loved ones back home.
The bill will "deliver critical support to our men and women in uniform," she said.