WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved enough new money to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for another year, while abandoning attempts to set deadlines opposed by President George W. Bush for withdrawing American combat troops.
By a vote of 268-155, the House approved the funding for the two wars. Most of the $161.8 billion the Pentagon will get, which is slightly less than Bush requested, will be used to fight in Iraq.
The measure, which the Bush administration backed, is expected to be debated by the Senate within several days. It was not yet clear whether the Senate would amend the bill.
Some Democrats expressed frustration with an inability to force troop withdrawals from Iraq, despite their party’s majority status in the House.
“Let us hope this is the last time another dollar will be spent without constraint, without conditions,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who opposes the Iraq war.
The debate over the future of the Iraq war is expected to shift to the presidential campaign, where Democrat Barack Obama has called for prompt troop withdrawals, while Republican John McCain has talked about the possibility of a long military presence in Iraq.
As the House voted on money for the war, an anti-war protester sitting in a visitor’s gallery in the chamber threw red-stained dollars at lawmakers before being escorted out by security.
The Pentagon has said that without a new infusion of war money, personnel layoffs would begin next month and it would not be able to pay active duty soldiers.
According to the House Appropriations Committee, the new money will cover war costs through mid-2009, well beyond when a new U.S. president takes office on January 20.
With this new batch of money, Congress will have appropriated more than $800 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. That money is piled onto a huge federal debt that has grown since Bush took office in 2001, giving fiscal conservatives in Congress heartburn.
Last month, the House passed a different version of the war-funding bill, which would have called for immediately starting troop withdrawals from Iraq and with the goal of completing the removal of combat soldiers by the end of 2009.
There are nearly 150,000 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.
But in the face of Republican opposition in the Senate and a certain veto by Bush, Democrats who control the House gave up, at least for now, trying to legislate troop withdrawals.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, continued voicing support for the 5-year-old war, despite its unpopularity among voters. “I‘m glad we’re there,” he said.
“Our effort in Iraq is important,” Boehner said earlier. “Building a growing democracy in a part of the world that has never known it will pay great dividends over the next 50 years.”
Besides providing war funds, the measure would significantly expand college education benefits for veterans of the two wars and their families at an estimated cost of about $63 billion over 11 years.
It also would prohibit the construction of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq and require Baghdad to match, dollar-for-dollar, U.S. reconstruction aid.
Editing by Doina Chiacu