Senate to approve Obama war funding

May 21, 2009 12:35:27 PM PDT
The Senate on Thursday rejected an effort by a GOP conservative to strip new U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund from a $91.3 billion measure funding military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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By a 30-64 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to give the IMF a $100 billion line of credit to shore up the ability of countries around the globe to cope with financial crises, along with $8 billion for existing commitments.

"There are so many things that we'd like to do that we don't have the money for. How can we possibly just tell (the IMF) that they can take $100 billion any time they want," DeMint said.

But DeMint earned a bipartisan rebuke from Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who said the IMF funding is critical to avoiding financial instability in the world that could harm the U.S. economy.

"The fact is that if those emerging markets start to fade, not only do we lose the economic upside of those markets but we also run the risk that governments fail," Kerry said.

Both Kerry and Gregg said the true cost to taxpayers would be very small, since the U.S. government is given interest-bearing assets in return and has never lost money on prior investments in the IMF. They said even the $5 billion cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office was too high.

Earlier Thursday, President Barack Obama's request for war funds easily cleared a procedural test on its way toward a final vote later in the day.

The underlying war funding measure closely tracks Obama's request for war funds, although the $80 million he was seeking to close the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was dropped Wednesday.

The 94-1 vote to limit debate paves the way for easy passage later on Thursday. A final House-Senate compromise is likely when Congress returns in June from a weeklong Memorial Day recess. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., cast the sole "no" vote.

"The majority of Afghans do not support a surge in U.S. forces and a majority in the south even oppose the presence of U.S. troops," Feingold said. "Sending significantly more troops to Afghanistan now could end up doing more harm than good -- further inflaming civilian resentment without significantly contributing to stability in that country."

Other than Feingold -- who issued a written statement rather than giving a floor speech -- the Senate debate has featured none of the angst over the situation in Afghanistan that permeated debate in the House last week on companion legislation.

Obama is sending more than 20,000 additional troops there and, for the first time next year, 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. forces 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.

The Senate bill includes $1.5 billion as cautionary funding to fight a possible flu pandemic, including the current outbreak of H1N1 swine flu.

The underlying war funding measure has gotten relatively little attention, even though it would boost total approved spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars above $900 billion.

The Pentagon would receive $73 billion under the legislation, including $4.6 billion to train and equip Afghan and Iraqi security forces, $400 million to train and equip Pakistan's security forces, and $21.9 billion to procure new mine-resistant vehicles, aircraft, weapons and ammunition, among other items.

The House version adds $11.8 billion to Obama's request, including almost $4 billion for new weapons and military equipment such as eight C-17 cargo planes, mine-resistant vehicles, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker armored vehicles. The measure adds $2.2 billion to Obama's request for foreign aid -- much of which appears to be designed to get around spending limits for 2010.

The Senate measure also includes $6.9 billion in foreign aid, mainly for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. There's also $50 million to combat AIDS overseas, and $173 million for peacekeeping operations in Somalia and elsewhere.

The bill also contains $350 million for various security programs along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the money would not be awarded to the Pentagon, which asked for it and had contingency plans to use it to send National Guard units to patrol the border.

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