WASHINGTON – In a rare early Saturday morning vote, the Senate cleared several last procedural hurdles – including the one out of its control, a raging snowstorm – to pass the Pentagon’s massive spending bill that includes nearly $130 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On an 88-10 vote, the Senate sent the defense appropriations bill to the White House for President Barack Obama, clearing the last spending measure for the federal government.
The defense legislation includes normal funding for the wars but does not include what likely will be from $30 billion to $40 billion in additional money for the 30,000 more troops Obama plans to send into Afghanistan next year, funds that will not come before Congress until next spring.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the vote “a good, strong message we sent to the men and women” in the military, but the vote masked a bitter partisan battle during the previous two days that had little to do with the Pentagon.
Republicans had tried to block consideration of the defense bill with a filibuster, an unusual move for a party that staunchly backed the Pentagon’s handling of the wars this decade, but they acknowledged it was an effort to delay Democratic plans to pass health care legislation by Christmas. On the last attempt at delaying the bill, 57 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and four Republicans, surmounting a 60-vote threshold, voted to beat back the GOP effort at raising a point of order against the legislation.
Once those efforts were defeated and the return to the health care debate was a foregone conclusion, 29 Republicans supported the final vote for military funding. One Democrat, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., voted against the bill, in line with his anti-war beliefs, but he provided Democrats a critical vote in an early Friday morning GOP filibuster attempt. Nine Republicans opposed the final passage of the legislation Saturday.
The toughest battle for senators, however, was likely the weather outside. The storm sweeping across the Washington region has buried Capitol Hill, making many roads impassable.