WASHINGTON—Taxpayers will be spending nearly $17 billion more than the $103 billion President Bush requested mainly for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the rest of this fiscal year. More than half of the additional spending is also for fighting terrorism and other military needs, such as health care for wounded troops.
Congress had wanted to add $21 billion and impose an Oct. 1 date for the beginning of a withdrawal of most troops from Iraq. After negotiations with the White House, Congress dropped the withdrawal date, and Bush agreed to 80 percent of the extra spending. The House of Representatives and the Senate passed the measure Thursday night.
The biggest chunk of the extra spending—$9.2 billion—goes to defense and homeland security. Included are $1.9 billion more for military health care; $1.8 billion for veterans health aimed at reducing a backlog of claims by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan; and $1 billion for homeland security, including explosives detection equipment at airports and port and mass transit security. In addition, money was set aside for the war in Afghanistan, specialized vehicles that provide more protection against roadside bombs, and military base closing and reorganization.
The rest—$7.6 billion—goes for non-military domestic spending.
That sum includes $2.87 billion in additional spending for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, led by $1.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, partly to repair levees. Among other hurricane recovery funds are: $115 million for agriculture damage; $50 million for Gulf Coast law enforcement needs; $110 million for the shrimp and fishing industries; $48 million to reimburse the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for hurricane costs; and $10 million for historic preservation.
The domestic spending also includes $3 billion for farmers and ranchers hit by drought and other natural disasters; $393 million to provide health insurance for poor children; $465 million for fighting wildfires; $425 million for schools in rural, timber-dependent counties; and $510 million for many other smaller programs such as avian flu research and monitoring.
Democrats weeks ago dropped some of the spending items Republicans zeroed in on with scorn, such as money for peanut and spinach farmers and grants to Denver and Minneapolis, the cities hosting next year's political conventions.
"I didn't see any of the real big bridge-to-nowhere stuff" in the bill passed Thursday, said Lawrence J. Korb an assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon with budget responsibilities from 1981 to 1985, now at the policy research group Center for American Progress.
President Bush on Thursday said he would have preferred to eliminate more of the $17 billion in extra spending, but didn't specify what he thought most important to cut.
The bill also included an increase of the federal minimum wage, the first in a decade, from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. The increase would be phased in over two years.
In the House, the vote on spending was split into two votes, one on the war funds and the other on most of the extra funding. Some lawmakers who voted against the extra spending called it pork. Others said they objected to adding it to a bill intended to fund the wars.
Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., voted against the domestic spending because she argued it should go through the normal appropriations machinery, said her spokesman, Andy Polk. "If this spending is so important, it should go through the regular process like everything else," Polk said.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., also said that the purpose of the bill was to fund the war on terrorism. Wilson opposed inclusion of "questionable earmarks, certain pension relief provisions and a minimum wage increase," said his spokeswoman, Kimberly A. Olive.
Republican leader John Boehner also criticized the extra spending.
"We shouldn't have to grease the wheels for our fight with al-Qaida by funding the pork-barrel projects of a few members of Congress, and the fact that we do shows the majority does not take the global war on terror seriously," Boehner said in a statement Thursday.