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Senate OKs $70 billion in war funding

That likely clears the way for Congress to pass a $555 billion omnibus spending bill.

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted yesterday to provide $70 billion for U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, handing a victory to President Bush and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill.

The 70-25 roll call paved the way for the Senate to pass what is now a $555 billion omnibus appropriations bill that combines the war funding with the budgets for 14 cabinet agencies.

Bush was ready to sign the bill, assuming the war funding clears the House today. Democrats again failed to win votes to force removal of U.S. troops from Iraq or set a nonbinding target to remove most by the end of 2008.

"Even those of us who have disagreed on this war have always agreed on one thing: Troops in the field will not be left without the resources they need," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).

Twenty-one Democrats and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who stood with Republicans at a post-vote news conference, voted with every Republican present except Gordon H. Smith of Oregon to approve the Iraq funding.

Among Philadelphia-area senators, the war funding drew yes votes from Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.), Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), and Thomas Carper (D., Del.); Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez (both D., N.J.) voted no. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.) did not vote.

The budget deal between the Democratic-run Congress and Bush ended months of battling and criticism from GOP purists who said the bill spends too much and contains about 9,000 pet projects for members of Congress.

"Congress refuses to rein in its wasteful spending or curb its corruption," said Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.).

Conservatives contended that the measure contained at least $28 billion in domestic spending above Bush's budget, funded by a combination of "emergency" spending, transfers from the defense budget, budget gimmicks, and phantom savings.

With Bush winning the $70 billion infusion of troop funding, other Republicans muted their criticism.

"I do think the president has a victory here," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R., Mo.). But the win was hardly clear-cut for Republicans hoping the president would emerge from the months-long battle with Democrats over the budget with a result that would more clearly demonstrate to core GOP voters the party's commitment to fiscal discipline.

While disappointed by ceding Iraq funding to Bush, Democrats hailed the pending appropriations bill for smoothing the rough edges of Bush's February budget plan, which sought below-inflation increases for most domestic programs and contained numerous cutbacks and program eliminations.

"The omnibus bill largely yields to the president's top-line budget numbers, but it also addresses some of the bottom-line priorities of the American people," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa). "The Grinch tried to steal Christmas, but we didn't let him get all of it."

The White House, which maintained a hard line for months, has been far more forgiving in recent days, accepting $11 billion in "emergency" spending for veterans, drought relief, border security and firefighting accounts, among others.