Iraq Bill Passes Senate With Add-Ons

US soldier on patrol in Iraq over US flag and capitol dome
AP / CBS
Senate Republicans have broken with President Bush to help Democrats add support for veterans and the unemployed to a bill paying for another year of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The 75-22 vote also added billions of dollars in other domestic funds such as heating subsidies for the poor and money for fighting wildfires to the $165 billion for the military operations overseas.

Shortly afterward, the Senate endorsed $165 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring, when Mr. Bush's successor will set war policy.

The vote on the domestic add-ons was a rebuke to Mr. Bush, who has promised to veto the measure if it contains the domestic measures. However, the president still has enough GOP support in the House to sustain a veto.

The House still has to act on the bill. Last week, it voted to reject money for continuing the war. It endorsed the help for veterans and the unemployed, but kept its version clean of most other domestic programs.

The huge tally in the Senate was driven by $15.6 billion over two years to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and more than $50 billion over the upcoming decade to provide returning Iraq war veterans with sharply increased college aid.

But dozens of add-ons favored by senators in both parties contributed to the unexpectedly sweeping tally that embarrassed the White House.

Some 25 Republicans abandoned Mr. Bush to endorse money for grants to local police departments, repairing roads damaged by natural disasters and boosting health research. Just 22 stood with him.

Such initiatives included money for Louisiana and Mississippi for projects including levees and coastal restoration.

There's also $850 million for international food aid, $1.9 billion for military construction projects, and several billion dollars in various foreign aid programs - all requested by the administration.

In another tally, the Senate voted 63-34 to reject Democratic efforts to urge Mr. Bush to begin redeployment of combat troops and place other strings on his ability to conduct the war in Iraq.

The vote came after Mr. Bush, speaking to troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, urged Congress to pass a war funding bill without congressional add-ons.

"We should be able to agree that our troops deserve America's full support," the president said alongside 17,000 paratroopers at an outdoor ceremony on a massive field lined with members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. "And that means that the United States Congress needs to pass a responsible war funding bill that does not tie the hands of our commanders and gives our troops everything they need to complete and accomplish the mission."

Mr. Bush welcomed home soldiers who have returned in recent months from the two combat zones.

In his speech to troops, Mr. Bush defended his war policy and said that when it comes to deciding troop levels in Iraq, his message to commanders remains: "You will have all the troops, you will have all the resources you need to win."

Mr. Bush's visit to Fort Bragg, his fourth since taking office, coincided with what is known as "All-American Week" at the base. The 82nd's traditional homecoming was canceled last year because nearly the entire division was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year was tough on the 82nd Airborne, which suffered 87 fatalities - more than in any other year since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

The division's 1st Brigade Combat Team is expected to return from Iraq in July, three months earlier than expected. But the 3rd Brigade Combat Team is being sent back to Iraq later this year.

Mr. Bush said Iraq will be a success when it can govern itself, support itself economically and protect its own citizens.

"The capability of the Iraqi security forces is improving. They are winning battles," he said.

He said the Iraqis are shouldering more of the cost of rebuilding, demanding better lives for their families, rejecting violence and passing legislation to pave the way for a stable future.

"While there is a distance to travel, they have come a long way," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush also was touring the 82nd Airborne Division barracks where a paratrooper's father shot video of substandard conditions, including sewage standing in a bathroom. Division spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt said Wednesday that conditions at the barracks have "vastly improved" since the video was taken and posted online.

Ed Frawley of Menomonie, Wis., posted the video online, saying he was disgusted by the conditions that greeted his son, Sgt. Jeff Frawley, and other members of his company when they returned from a 15-month tour in Afghanistan. The video showed mold, peeling paint, a broken toilet seat and a bathroom drain plugged with sewage.

Once on the Internet, the video spurred a widespread examination of conditions at Army barracks. Secretary of the Army Pete Geren ordered an inspection of 148,000 Army barracks rooms and said the military would spent $248 million on repairs.

Repairs to the barracks in the video began in January but the unit returned home three weeks earlier than expected, and not all of the repairs had been completed, Fort Bragg officials said. They said more than $3 million has been spent on improving barracks since Frawley's video was posted April 24. They say the barracks have been inspected and while there were some indications of mold, it did not indicate a health hazard.

About 150 members of "Gold Star" families, relatives of those killed, joined Bush for the division's review ceremony, which began with four paratroopers with red-white-and-blue chutes landing on a target on the grassy Pike Field and ended with a parade of low-flying helicopters.

Afterward, Mr. Bush was helping rededicate the division's global war on terrorism memorial for paratroopers killed in battle since World War II. The memorial is being expanded; there is no more room for the names of the dead on its original granite pillar.