US Congress Sends Bush Budget Bill with Iraq Money

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a $556 billion bill to fund most of the federal government through September 2008, ending a year-long budget fight with President George W. Bush by also including new money for the Iraq war.

The House gave final congressional approval to the bill that was cleared by the Senate late on Tuesday. It now goes to Bush for his expected approval.

Anti-war Democrats protested the new round of Iraq money, which they said gave Bush a "blank check" to run the war.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, sounded resigned to at least another year of funding the war in Iraq, against his wishes. He said the only option to changing direction in Iraq was to "elect more progressive voices to the United States Senate" and to "elect a president with a different set of priorities."

U.S. presidential and congressional elections will be held in November 2008.

The legislation wraps together 11 of the 12 bills the U.S. Congress must handle every year to fund government programs ranging from health care for the poor and elderly to law enforcement, space exploration, food stamps for the poor, foreign aid and border security.

Already enacted into law was a $460 billion measure to fund the Pentagon's regular activities, not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats in Congress fought with Bush all year, scoring some victories, in their push to spend more to improve domestic social programs such as early education for poor children, home heating aid for low-income families and expanded health care.

But much of the fiscal 2008 budget fight centered on the Iraq war. The $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan included in the catch-all spending bill will inject enough new money to keep combat going through May or June, according to some estimates.

Its inclusion marked another defeat for anti-war Democrats in Congress who labored to link Iraq war money to timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops and bringing the nearly 5-year-old war to an end.

But the money represents much less than half of the nearly $190 billion Bush had requested for the wars, most of it to be dedicated to Iraq. That means Democrats and Bush likely are headed for a renewed fight next year.

Congress is sending the large appropriations bill to Bush nearly three months late, something Republicans try to remind the public at every turn.

But what they don't mention is that a year ago, when they controlled Congress, Republicans gave up on passing 10 of the 12 fiscal 2007 spending bills, leaving Democrats to clean up the problem at the start of this year.

The bill passed by Congress would spend nearly $35 billion on domestic security measures, including increased funds for port security and aircraft cargo screening.

States also will be allowed to impose tougher security rules around chemical plants, which many in Congress fear are easy targets for terrorist attack.

The bill delays until June 1, 2009, an anti-terrorism initiative requiring passports or other documents for travelers entering the United States by land.

On the foreign policy front, the legislation gives about $700 million Bush wants for economic and military assistance to Pakistan, but with some new conditions attached.

About $1 billion would be for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in Sudan, where violence has plagued Darfur.

Given the large numbers of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq with severe injuries, the measure provides $3.7 billion more than Bush sought for veterans' care.