Negotiators OK $82 Billion in Emergency Spending
Congressional negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on an $82-billion emergency spending measure that would pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and includes measures that supporters say would improve U.S. security.
One of those measures is aimed at preventing states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Under the provision, applicants must prove they are legal residents of the United States to gain a license that could be used for a variety of identification purposes, including boarding an airplane.
The driver’s license measure was part of an immigration-related package added to the spending bill after President Bush submitted it to Congress in February.
Military officials recently had expressed concern that Congress was not acting quickly enough on the funding measure. But with Tuesday’s agreement, the bill is expected to easily clear Congress and be sent to Bush for his signature next week.
“Members of Congress understand that we must provide our men and women fighting terrorism around the world with the support they need to continue that battle to protect our freedoms,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Tuesday’s agreement reconciles different versions of the measure passed by the House and Senate.
The final product gives Bush much of what he sought for military operations, from about $7 billion to train and equip security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to $740 million to produce more armored Humvees.
The funding would bring to more than $275 billion the cost of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan launched after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Overall, the bill provides nearly $76 billion for defense.
Much of the remainder of the $82 billion goes to foreign aid, including money for counter-terrorism efforts abroad and international peacekeeping.
The measure increases to $100,000, from $12,420, the benefit paid to survivors of military personnel killed in combat. More than 1,500 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war there began in March 2003. The new benefit would be retroactive.
The life insurance benefit for troops also would increase, to $400,000, up from $250,000.
The bill funnels some $656 million in aid to countries struggling to recover from the tsunami in southern Asia in late December.
Among other non-defense items in the bill is $24 million to repair national forest roads damaged by winter rainstorms in Southern California. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), who sought the funding, said it was urgently needed with the approach of the fire season. Without the repairs, she said, “crews simply won’t be able to reach vast tracts of land, and entire forests could go up in smoke.”
The measure provides $635 million to tighten security at U.S. borders, including funds to hire an additional 500 Border Patrol agents.
In some cases, the funding approved by the congressional negotiators falls short of the amounts sought by Bush.
For instance, the bill provides $592 million for building a new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, $70 million less than the White House requested.
The House initially opposed the funding and the Senate supported it.
A congressional statement announcing the embassy agreement said the funding allowed the State Department to build “secure facilities within 24 months for Americans working for the U.S. mission in Iraq who are now in harm’s way.”
The $4.2 billion authorized for foreign aid is $1.5 billion less than Bush requested.
And the roughly $680 million earmarked for international peacekeeping missions is $100 million less than Bush sought.
About $200 million was approved for economic and infrastructure assistance to the Palestinian territories, including $50 million to help Israel “improve the efficiency and security of the flow of goods and people from the territories into Israel,” according to the congressional statement on the agreement.
In addition, $150 million would go to Pakistan and $100 million to Jordan to support counter-terrorism operations.
Along with the driver’s license provision included in the bill, other measures would tighten the procedures for winning asylum in the United States and speed completion of a border fence near San Diego.
Proponents of the driver’s license provision said requiring an applicant to prove legal U.S. residency would help keep terrorists out of the country.
Critics said the provision would make the nation’s roads less safe because illegal immigrants would continue to drive, but without passing driving tests.
They also said the provision would create, in effect, a national identity card.
States could still issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, but the licenses would not be valid as federal identification.