Lawmakers included language in this year's defense spending bill, approved last week, allowing them to spend the money. The funds for "commemoration of success" in Iraq and Afghanistan were originally tucked into last year's defense measure, but went unspent amid an uptick in violence in both countries that forced the Pentagon to extend tours of duty for thousands of troops.
Republicans have yet to claim responsibility for the provision. Democrats say it was likely added by the Senate's majority Republicans, and less than five weeks from congressional elections are pointing to it as another example of where the GOP has gone astray handling the war in Iraq.
"If the Bush administration is planning victory celebrations, Americans deserve to know what their plan is to get us to a victory in Iraq," said Rebecca Kirszner, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Carolyn Weyforth, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said, "Republicans are confident we will be victorious in the ongoing war in terror, and we look forward to a time when those funds can be used to honor the men and women who have risked and given their lives."
Under the language, the president could "designate a day of celebration" to honor troops serving in the two wars. The president also could call on the nation "to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities" and issue awards to troops who have served honorably.
The Pentagon could spend up to $20 million of its $532 billion budget in 2007 for the commemoration, minus any private contributions it might receive for such an event.
The money will be available for the 2007 budget year, which began Oct. 1.
Some 140,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, with a drawdown not expected until at least early next year.
About 20,000 more are in Afghanistan. Last year, Bush administration and Pentagon officials had hoped thousands of troops could be brought home before the Nov. 7 elections.
Proclaiming victory in the Iraq war has already proven to be tricky business.
President Bush was slammed by critics for delivering his "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003 aboard an aircraft carrier. While troops had successfully stormed Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad, the fight over control in the nation against a violent insurgency had just begun.
Vice President Dick Cheney also was ridiculed for suggesting last year that the insurgency was in its "final throes."
By Anne Plummer Flaherty