- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Congress will soon deliver to President Bush a compromise $87.5 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan bearing hundreds of millions more than he requested for U.S. troops who served in those operations.

The Senate planned to give final approval to the legislation Monday. The House approved the bill early yesterday morning by 298-121, sending a package whose outlines followed the plan Mr. Bush proposed on Sept. 7.

“We will deliver on the president’s request, in terms of supporting our military men and women overseas,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday.

The measure, mostly for the budget year that will run through next Sept. 30, is dominated by $64.7 billion for expenses of the U.S. military. That includes about $51 billion in Iraq, $10 billion in Afghanistan and $2 billion at home, plus funds for Jordan, Pakistan and other U.S. allies.

The bill also has $18.6 billion to rebuild Iraq’s economy and government, $1.2 billion for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and $500 million to replenish federal accounts for responding to California’s wildfires, Hurricane Isabel and other disasters.

The final version dropped two items the Senate had included: $1.3 billion for growing veterans’ health care costs, and provisions making it a federal felony for contractors to overcharge for goods and services in the reconstruction of Iraq.

House Democrats voted against the compromise bill by a 115-82 margin, reflecting a dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush’s postwar Iraq policies that they say have left U.S. taxpayers and soldiers bearing too much of a burden.

But with American troops still widely deployed and suffering almost daily casualties in Iraq, many Democrats were reluctant to vote against the bill.

Making a “no” vote all the harder were other provisions for the military that House-Senate bargainers included in the measure’s final version.

Health care coverage available to full-time soldiers will be made available to National Guard and Reserve members who are unemployed or don’t qualify for medical benefits at their regular jobs. Activated reservists would also have medical coverage for a longer period, including for six months after they are deactivated rather than the current 60 days.

Overall, the bill estimates the new coverage could cost up to $400 million this year.

Another provision would end the $8.10 per day charge levied on hospitalized soldiers to pay for their meals. The elimination of the fee is retroactive to September 11, 2001.

The bill sets aside $55 million for troops on leave who are flown back to the United States so they can pay for travel expenses to their homes. Language is included that urges airlines to charge these troops and their families “the lowest available fares.”

Troops in combat zones would be entitled to higher rates of “imminent danger” pay and family separation pay, which is added to their regular paychecks. And extra funds were added for body armor, cleaning up unexploded ammunition and strengthening the armor of Humvees.

Also included are:

• $983 million for the administrative budget of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq. This includes $75 million for an inspector general who will audit the authority’s books, and $50 million for the costs of submitting regular reports on its activities.

• $245 million for international peacekeeping costs in Liberia.

• $100 million for securing and destroying conventional weapons in Iraq.

• $110 million for combating famine and other natural disasters in Liberia and Sudan.

• $32 million to help New York City protect foreign diplomats.

• $2 million for the capture of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, in exile in Nigeria.

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