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Bill provides more money for wars, injured troops

WASHINGTON—A close look at the $124.2 emergency-spending bill that Congress passed reveals that much of the spending above the $91.5 billion that President Bush requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is for items that both Republicans and Democrats support.

The bill, however, also sets a date for beginning a military withdrawal and demands that the Iraqi government take actions to help end the violence, and Bush has vowed to veto it because he won't accept a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

"I really think it's a mistake for Congress to try to tell generals, our military experts, how to conduct a war," said the president, whose civilian aides did tell generals how few troops they'd need in Iraq, how fast they'd be able to leave and how easy it would be to secure the country.

Bush also said that Congress had added spending that didn't belong in the bill, which was meant to provide emergency spending. "Maybe they're important issues, but they ought to be debated in the normal course of business," he said Friday.

The bill would increase spending on the wars by $4 billion, to $95.5 billion. In addition, it would add $2 billion to improve the readiness of troops at home—about half of it for National Guard and Reserve equipment—and $1.2 billion to purchase Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which give more protection from roadside bombs than armored Humvees do.

It also would add: $2.1 billion for military health care, including treating traumatic brain injuries from roadside bombs and $20 million to repair Walter Reed Army Medical Center; $1.8 billion more for veterans' health care; and $1.1 billion more for military housing.

The Democrats' bill, however, also would send $18.2 billion to places other than Iraq and the military, including $6.9 billion for rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; $650 million for health insurance for poor children in 14 states that have funding shortfalls; $2.25 billion for homeland security, including screening for explosives at airports; $4.9 billion for small businesses to ease an increase in the minimum wage; and $3.5 billion in agricultural subsidies.

The bill would leave the president with the flexibility to decide how many troops would leave and when their departure would be complete. It sets a goal—but not a requirement—that the withdrawal of most combat forces would be completed by the end of next March.

The timing would depend on whether the Iraqi government meets political benchmarks that include disarming militias and reducing sectarian violence, enacting a hydrocarbon law that divides revenues from oil among all Iraqi groups, changing laws that make it difficult for former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to rejoin the government and ensuring the rights of minority political parties in the parliament.

The bill requires that American forces start to leave by July 1 if the Iraqis don't make progress on the benchmarks, and by Oct. 1 if they do.

It specifies that the mission of the U.S. forces that remain in Iraq should change. They no longer would help Iraqis stem the sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee from their homes.

Their mission would be restricted to fighting terrorists, protecting the U.S. Embassy and other installations, and training and equipping Iraqi security forces.

Republicans and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats but supports the president's war plan, argued that it's impossible to separate sectarian killers from terrorists.

Democrats have argued that withdrawal is necessary to push the Iraqi government to take steps toward national reconciliation and end the factional violence, and that Iraqi forces then will be able and willing to fight terrorists.

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For the government's summary of what's in the war-funding bill, see the April 23 item at:

http://appropriations.senate.gov

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The bill itself can be read at:

http://www.rules.house.gov

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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