US Congress negotiators omit war from Pentagon funds

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WASHINGTON, Nov 6 (Reuters) Democrats in the US Congress today set in motion another showdown with President George W. Bush over the Iraq war when they advanced a military spending bill without extra funds for the conflict.

Negotiators in the US House of Representatives and Senate approved a 460 billion dollars Pentagon funding bill for fiscal 2008 that both chambers are expected to approve soon.

They also added a stopgap provision that would keep the rest of the government going until December 14, a Senate aide said.

With most of the legislation to fund the government still unfinished, the government currently is operating on a stopgap funding measure that lasts until November 16.

Last year's Pentagon funding bill contained 70 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was intended to keep combat operations running until a larger ''emergency'' spending bill was approved. Republicans had hoped this year would be no different.

Instead, majority Democrats said they would bring up a separate proposal with additional cash for the war -- perhaps as much as 50 billion dollars -- later this week. But they said they would tie restrictions to the money, such as troop withdrawal timelines that have drawn a veto from Bush in the past.

Yesterday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, talked about setting ''a national goal'' for removing combat troops from Iraq by December 2008.

''The American people want this war over with,'' Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, ex-Marine and chairman of the House defense spending panel, declared on Tuesday. Democrats believe voters elected them to majorities in Congress in 2006 to end the war, Murtha told reporters.

Republicans denounced the Democrats' approach. Alaska Sen Ted Stevens said the Army would run out of money in January for the Iraq war.

''I do believe Congress would break the Army if it refused to provide the funds these forces need now,'' Stevens said.

Pounding the table, he shouted at lawmakers ''you're not going home'' this year until more money for the war is approved.

But his proposal to add 70 billion dollars for the war was voted down.

The bill approved by members of the House and Senate appropriations committees provides about 460 billion dollars for the core Pentagon budget for fiscal 2008, which began on October 1.

The funds would pay for everything from weapons systems to soldiers' salaries.

So far, Congress has given the Bush administration 604 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about 412 billion dollars spent in Iraq, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress' in-house budget analyst.

President George W. Bush is seeking another 196 billion dollars for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan through next September 30. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely been funded since late 2001 through such ''emergency'' or ''supplemental'' bills.

Majority Democrats say they will wait until next year to debate Bush's latest request.

Murtha said negotiators included some of Bush's war funding requests in the core Pentagon budget bill, such as 11.6 billion dollars for armored trucks designed to protect troops from roadside bombs.

He also noted the Pentagon funding bill was 39.7 billion dollars higher than the previous year.

The bill has a 3.5 per cent pay raise for troops. It cuts 85 million dollars from Bush's request to build a European missile shield that Moscow opposes. Murtha said that would keep the administration from starting construction on the missile site in Poland, although radars in the Czech republic were funded.

REUTERS MP AS0321

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