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War Funding Bill May Surpass $100B

The White House on Tuesday night asked Congress for $2 billion to help prepare for a possible swine flu pandemic, a request that came on top of up to $2 billion already pending in House-Senate talks on a huge war funding bill.

President Barack Obama also sent lawmakers a request for $200 million in humanitarian aid to Pakistan, where 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes, in large part because of the government's campaign against insurgents.

The requests, if granted, would likely bring the cost of Obama's funding bill for military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to more than $100 billion.

Republicans in the House are lining up to oppose the war-funding bill if Democrats insist on including in it a new line of credit for the International Monetary Fund.

Democrats may have to scramble to pass the bill in the House, where GOP votes are likely to be needed to make up for about 50 anti-war liberal Democrats who opposed it last month.

At the core of the tentatively priced $98.8 billion House-Senate measure is $79.9 billion for the Pentagon, a figure that's also rankling House Republicans since it represents an almost $5 billion cut from the version that passed the House last month. That measure did not include funding for the IMF.

Responding to media reports that House Democratic negotiators have agreed to include a new $100 billion line of credit to the IMF a top priority of President Barack Obama; the top Republican in the House said Tuesday he would oppose the bill.

"Let's be clear: a troop-funding bill should fund our troops, period," said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Weighing down this critical legislation with nondefense spending will only drag this process out further and cost it essential Republican support needed for passage."

Obama promised the IMF money at April's G-20 summit to help developing countries deal with the troubled global economy. About $8 billion for an earlier commitment for the IMF will be included.

The actual U.S. costs for the IMF contribution are far less; $5 billion is the Congressional Budget Office estimate; since the U.S. government is given interest-bearing assets in return. Still, U.S. debt would have to be issued to provide the money at a time when government borrowing has exploded.

"There is absolutely no reason for the Democrat majority to complicate a bill intended to fund our troops by larding it up with over $108 billion in borrowed money for the IMF," said House GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democratic leaders were optimistic that enough liberals would come back to the fold to win approval of the bill regardless of what Republicans do on the vote, which is likely next week.

The roster of 51 Democrats who opposed the bill the first time around is studded with leadership loyalists like Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Pelosi confidant George Miller, D-Calif.

Obama is sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. For the first time, the annual cost of the war in Afghanistan is projected to exceed the cost of fighting in Iraq.

With support forces, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected to be about 68,000 by the end of the year; more than double the size of the U.S. force at the end of 2008.

Obama requested the new anti-flu funding out of "an abundance of caution" even as the panic surrounding the H1N1 swine flu outbreak has faded considerably.

Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, confirmed that the measure would contain money for eight C-17 cargo planes, a top priority of the Boeing Co. and its allies in states such as California, Missouri and Washington.

The bill will not contain $50 million for the Pentagon and $30 million for the Justice Department requested by Obama to close the U.S. detention facility at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A successful GOP-led effort to prevent the bill from being used to close Guantanamo dominated Senate debate last month, even as the war-funding measure would boost total spending approved for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars above $900 billion.

An official meeting of House-Senate negotiators is tentatively slated for Thursday, House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said.

The measure also includes $489 million sought by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and homestate GOP colleague Roger Wicker to restore barrier islands along the Mississippi Gulf Coast destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and restore ecosystems such as salt marshes to protect the coast. Without the islands, Mississippi is more vulnerable to future hurricanes.

The Mississippi duo also obtained $49 million for hurricane repairs to a former Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant; which provides workspace for 20 tenants; to facilitate its transfer to the Stennis Space Center.

The funding for that and other Senate "earmarks" came despite an admonition by Obama to keep the measure free of such parochial items.

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