December 22, 2005

House passes $453.3 billion defense bill

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives passed
a $453.3 billion defense spending bill on Thursday, which
included $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and
funding for other needs including rebuilding from the
devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The bill, which now goes to President George W. Bush for
his signature, was approved by the Senate on Wednesday after
Democrats forced the Republican majority to strip from it a
measure opening an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling.

The $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is to
carry the Pentagon until Congress acts on another emergency war
supplemental next year, which lawmakers expect to be between
$80 billion and $100 billion.

The Pentagon is spending an estimated $6 billion a month on
the Iraq war effort.

House passage of the defense spending bill also brings to a
close debates that raged all autumn over funding for rebuilding
from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, and avian flu

The military spending bill contains $29 billion to rebuild
levees, schools, roads and other infrastructure destroyed in
August when Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana,
Mississippi and Alabama from the Gulf of Mexico.

Much of the money is being taken from emergency hurricane
aid already enacted but not yet spent by the federal
government. The rest of the funding is being offset by other
accounting maneuvers.

The defense spending bill also contains nearly $3.8 billion
to begin preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic.

The Bush administration had sought more than $7 billion to
stockpile drugs and take other steps in case the deadly animal
illness mutates in a way that makes it easily transmissible to

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the
House Appropriations Committee, attacked a provision that House
and Senate Republican leaders inserted into the bill giving
drug companies protection from lawsuits.

Obey, who said he would support narrow protections for
manufacturers of avian flu vaccines, criticized the provision
he said provides "all sorts of insulation for pharmaceutical
companies, not just drugs to deal with the flu, but a far
broader range of products."

The avian flu money would also be used to increase
international surveillance of the disease and help state and
local authorities in the United States prepare.