Senate OKs war bill, but plan still faces hurdles
A battle over immigration and a Baghdad embassy awaits in the House.
WASHINGTON -- The Senate unanimously approved an $81 billion bill Thursday to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, provide relief to Asian tsunami victims and build a massive embassy in Baghdad.
The legislation now faces prickly negotiations with the House.
The core of the measure -- about $75 billion for military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has generated no controversy. That sum will push war and reconstruction costs since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to more than $300 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. The cost of the Iraq war alone is approaching $200 billion.
But House and Senate negotiators will have to battle over several contentious side issues, such as extraneous provisions on immigration that reveal very different priorities. The Senate voted Tuesday night to expand the availability of employment visas for skilled workers, such as nurses and engineers, and to relax rules governing temporary visas for lower-skilled guest workers to allow about 35,000 more into the country this year.
In contrast, the House last month took a get-tough approach to immigration on its version of the war spending bill, voting to deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, tighten rules for asylum seekers and bolster a fence along the California-Mexico border.
Other points of contention will be the Bush administration's planned Baghdad embassy -- which the House refused to fund -- planned cuts to weapons programs that the Senate moved to block, and various home-state projects that have raised the ire of fiscal conservatives.
In February, President Bush unveiled his $82 billion war request for the current fiscal year, a request that came on top of $25 billion in war funding already appropriated for 2005. The White House expects that request to push this year's budget deficit to $427 billion, a record in dollar terms. So far, Bush has gotten largely what he wanted.
But the House sliced the White House's $658 million embassy construction request to $592 million.