Senate Approves $636 Billion Military Spending Bill

Published on
by
Reuters

Senate Approves $636 Billion Military Spending Bill

by
Andy Sullivan

US soldiers patrol in Nuristan Province on December 18. The US Congress has sent US President Barack Obama a massive annual military spending bill that funds current operations in Afghanistan and pays for the troop withdrawal from Iraq. (AFP/File/Tauseef Mustafa)

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate approved a $636 billion military spending bill on Saturday that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also includes money to extend jobless aid and Medicare payment rates for two months.

By a vote of 88-10, the Senate approved the bill and sent it to President Barack Obama to sign into law. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday.

The bill covers Pentagon operations through September 30, 2010. But the $128 billion approved for ongoing wars probably will not be enough to cover Obama's plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

The spending bill represents a partial victory for Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had sought to eliminate unwanted weapons programs over the objections of lawmakers who see them as a source of skilled manufacturing jobs.

Congress eliminated funding for Lockheed Martin Corp's F-22 fighter jet, as Obama had requested.

But lawmakers funded 10 more Boeing Co C-17 transport planes than the Pentagon had asked for, at a cost of $2.5 billion.

Congress also kept alive over the Pentagon's objections the troubled VH-71 presidential helicopter, made by Lockheed, and an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter made by General Electric Co and Rolls Royce Group Plc.

Congress has now finished work on its spending bills for the fiscal year that started October 1. Those bills, which do not include expensive benefit programs or the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed in February, total 4.1 percent more than last year.

That is lower than the 7.5 percent annual increase over the past decade, thanks to the declining costs of the Iraq war. But Obama's Afghanistan troop increase is likely to erase those cost savings.

The bill includes 1,720 earmarks costing $4.2 billion for lawmakers' pet projects, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. Obama has said he would like to eliminate earmarks, which have figured in several corruption scandals.

The bill also would extend a handful of unrelated programs that otherwise would expire at the end of the year, or have expired already.

Programs extended through February 28, 2010, include:

* Jobless benefits and health-insurance subsidies for the unemployed

* The antiterrorism USA Patriot Act, which gives law enforcement enhanced investigative powers

* Current reimbursement rates for doctors under the national Medicare health insurance program for the elderly, averting a 21 percent pay cut

* Current highway and transit programs

* Loosened regulations designed to encourage small business lending. The Small Business Administration will continue to waive or reduce its loan fees and back 90 percent of the loans it oversees

* A law that allows satellite television providers to retransmit broadcast-TV signals

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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