House Approves Military Package with ID Measure
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The House of Representatives has given its approval to an $82 billion spending bill. It pays for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vote was 368-to-58 with one member voting present. Aside from the war funding, the measure also provides money for tsunami relief, and it contains a controversial provision setting national standards for driver's licenses. NPR's Brian Naylor has details.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
Congress calls the spending bill an emergency supplemental. That's because the president has not asked for money for the ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of his regular annual budget. Enacting this bill will mean that the administration and Congress have spent more than $300 billion on military operations in the region since 2001, and that has been money well spent, according to Indiana Republican Mike Pence, who urged his colleagues to support the measure.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): Heroes and a future of freedom are being forged every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while much work remains, I am more confident than ever in the justness and the ultimate success of our cause. And, Mr. Speaker, I remain confident that we, here in Congress, must do our duty demonstrating the idealism and the perseverance of the American people.
NAYLOR: Two hundred twenty-five Republicans and 143 Democrats supported the spending measure. Fifty-four Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent voted no. Many of their objections were voiced on the House floor today by Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern.
Representative JIM McGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): I cannot support ever-increasing funding for the war in Iraq without a clear understanding from this administration about when and how it will bring our own troops home. I'm tired of the spin. I'm tired of the lack of accountability. I'm tired of the lack of candor. I believe the time to stand up and call for that kind of clarity is now.
NAYLOR: Other Democrats also raised questions about the administration's handling of the war but said they would vote for the spending bill anyway to show their support of the 140,000 troops in Iraq. The measure calls for spending $76 billion on the military; that includes a dramatic increase in the payment to families of troops killed in combat zones from $12,000 to $100,000. The measure would be retroactive to October 2001. The measure also includes some $600 million for a new embassy building in Baghdad.
Aside from the military spending, the measure provides nearly a billion dollars in relief related to last winter's tsunami and $1.2 billion for domestic security and border protection, including the completion of a controversial fence on the border between California and Mexico.
The most controversial provision in the bill requires states to apply strict new standards when issuing driver's licenses, a measure called the Real ID Act. States must require each applicant for a license to show proof of citizenship or proof an applicant is in the US legally. Republican J.D. Hayworth of Arizona said this step was long overdue.
Representative J.D. HAYWORTH (Republican, Arizona): When you apply for a driver's license or another legal document, you should be who you say you are, and you should enjoy legal status in this country. Border security and national security are one and the same.
NAYLOR: Opponents of the Real ID provision, including New York Democrat Louise Slaughter, said it had no place in a military spending bill.
Representative LOUISE SLAUGHTER (Democrat, New York): The leadership has shoved this extreme measure down our throats as part of a supplemental, knowing full well that many members would never support the measure in its current form but will be forced to vote for it because we want to support our troops.
NAYLOR: The supplemental also includes goodies sought by individual lawmakers, including money for dairy farmers in Alaska, home of veteran Senate Republican Ted Stevens, and $4 million for a Fire Sciences Academy in Elko, Nevada, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's state. There's also language requiring federal agencies to put disclaimers on video news releases to clarify that they were produced at government expense. The Senate is expected to approve the spending bill and send it on to the president next week. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.