By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A key Senate panel approved a $58.8 billion war funding measure Thursday that would raise the total price tag for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade to $1 trillion.
The measure, approved by a unanimous 30-0 vote, blends about $30 billion for President Barack Obama’s 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan with more than $5 billion to replenish disaster aid accounts, as well as funding for Haitian earthquake relief, and a downpayment on aid to flood-drenched Tennessee and Rhode Island.
The must-pass legislation is the only appropriations bill likely to advance to Obama’s desk until the fall and is a tempting target for Democrats seeking to add money for a summer jobs program or to help to local school district to retain teachers. But Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, is opposing such add-ons to build GOP support for the bill.
The GOP support Thursday seems to bode well for floor passage before Memorial Day — provided the measure doesn’t become bloated on the Senate floor. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, promised to offer a $23 billion teacher-retention plan, while Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, pledged to seek additional border security funds, including money for unmanned surveillance aircraft.
“This bill is neither a bailout nor a stimulus,” Inouye said. “Instead it is the minimum necessary to meet emergency requirements and the cost of war.”
In a break with tradition, the Senate is advancing the war funding measure before the House acts on it. Many of Obama’s Democratic allies in the House oppose war funding and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hasn’t been in any hurry to bring Obama’s war funding request to a vote.
The war funding comes on top of $130 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan money provided to the Pentagon in December.
The bill also approved $68 million to respond to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, slightly more than half of what Obama requested on Wednesday.
The measure doesn’t include provisions to raise limits on BP’s liability for the Gulf oil spill or provide unemployment insurance and food stamps to people hurt by the spill but includes help for fishermen and money for stepped-up inspections and enforcement activity by the Interior Department.
The Coast Guard could also receive large advances of up to $100 million from the oil spill liability trust fund to pay for the continuing federal response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
There’s also more than $400 million in additional disaster aid for flood-stricken Tennessee and Rhode Island, several states recently hit by tornados, and a fisheries disaster in Alaska. Tennessee and Rhode Island would share $149 million in community development block grants and economic development funds.
The measure contains $13 billion in benefits for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, but does not provide more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits against the government, including $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion for mismanaging Indian trust funds.
The measure contains $1.1 billion for mine-resistant vehicles, $657 million for military bases in Afghanistan, and $6.2 billion in foreign aid for Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Haiti. The panel cut about $300 million from Obama’s Afghanistan request and added about $130 million to the request for Haiti, according to a summary.
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