Senate moves forward with $60 billion bill for Afghanistan war and disaster funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday moved forward a $59 billion spending bill, even as some panel members expressed skepticism about pouring more funds into the Afghanistan war.


More than half the money – $33.5 billion – would fund President Barack Obama's plan to increase U.S. troops by 30,000 in Afghanistan, as well as continuing military operations in Iraq. Much of the remainder would go toward foreign aid and assistance to Haiti and U.S. states hit by natural disasters.

The panel approved the legislation drafted by panel Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the ranking Republican, by voice vote and with minor amendments Thursday. And it had plenty of support.


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But at least two liberals raised questions.


"I have, in no way, any hesitation to support our brave troops," said Mikulski. 


"But I have grave questions about the sustainability of this policy" given corruption among Afghan leaders and the Afghan drug trade, she added.


Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also said he had “grave concerns” about the spending in Afghanistan and Iraq, and pledged to have his State and Foreign Operations subcommittee look at it “very carefully.”


“I realize every single cent we're spending in Iraq and Afghanistan we've borrowed from others, primarily the Chinese,” he said. “It is very, very hard to justify some of the spending that comes in our part of the budget for either place.”


The Senate action is the first step in getting a supplemental to the president’s desk before the Memorial Day recess, a deadline set by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The vote came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai wrapped up a four-day visit to Washington, during which he met with Obama at the White House and with key lawmakers on the Hill. On Thursday, Karzai made a brief appearance in the Senate chamber, escorted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).


The supplemental is expected to face a tougher audience in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that passing it will be “a heavy lift,” in large part because of liberals who oppose the war.


Pelosi said Karzai’s meetings this week would weigh heavily on the war funding bill, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said lawmakers expected more from Karzai.

The war funding in the Senate bill mirrors the request made by the Obama administration.

In addition to the war spending, Inouye's bill includes $5.1 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund; $6.2 billion for State Department operations and foreign aid in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti; and $13.4 billion for disability compensation to Vietnam War veterans affected by Agent Orange exposure.

The measure includes $400 million that wasn't requested by the Obama administration for recent disasters, such as floods in Tennessee, a storm in Rhode Island and tornadoes in the Midwest and South.

The committee also adopted an amendment providing $68 million in funding to combat the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Inouye said the costs of the bill are offset except for those considered emergency spending, which includes the war and disaster funding. The Appropriations Committee did not detail how the non-emergency costs will be paid for.

The House passed a supplemental spending bill in March that includes the $5.1 billion for disaster aid, but it has yet to consider the war funding provisions.