Senate passes bill to expand war budget and bring troops home

By Anne Flaherty The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A Senate committee approved a $122 billion measure yesterday financing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also defies President Bush by calling on him to pull combat troops out of Iraq by next spring.

The bill, approved by a voice vote, is similar to one the House began debating yesterday. Both measures have drawn veto threats from the White House, which has said Congress must allow more time for the U.S. troop increase in Iraq to work.

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee had hoped to delete the withdrawal language. But facing likely defeat, they decided to postpone that effort until the full Senate takes up the spending measure, as early as Monday.

“I don’t believe that we – from Washington – can judge the conditions on the battlefield,” said Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo.

Democrats, who have been trying to figure out how to pressure Bush to wind down the war, said the withdrawal language was necessary to force the Iraqi government to take more responsibility. It would require U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq within four months of passage, and would set a nonbinding goal of March 31, 2008, for the removal of combat troops.

“I think the only way we can succeed in Iraq is by fundamentally changing the dynamic,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees military funding.

The Senate bill includes about $96 billion for the Defense Department, primarily for the wars, and billions of dollars more in domestic assistance in a Democratic bid to attract more votes. Like its counterpart in the House, the bill would provide about $4 billion in agricultural assistance and $1.7 billion beyond the president’s request for military health programs.

The Senate bill also would provide some $6.7 billion for hurricane relief.