President Bush signs $162 billion war funding bill

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bush delivers a statement in the Oval Office after signing the bill. With him from left are: John Negroponte, Robert Gates, James Peake, and John P. Walters.

United States President George W. Bush today signed a bill providing $162 billion for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which intends to fund the wars for the rest of Bush's term and well into the first year of the new President's term.

In addition to war funds, the bill includes educational benefits for young troops and veterans, a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, $2.7 billion in emergency relief for victims of the Midwest floods, and billions of dollars for items such as international food aid, anti-drug enforcement, and repairs of Louisiana levees.

At a ceremony in the White House's Oval Office, Bush praised the legislation as a necessary product of bipartisanship. "I appreciate that Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed to provide these vital funds without tying the hands of our commanders, and without an artificial timetable of withdrawal from Iraq." Bush said. "This bill shows the American people that even in an election year, Republicans and Democrats can come together to stand behind our troops and their families."

Although not mentioned by Bush in his statement, the bill also waives an older law that restricted America's capacity to finance the removal of nuclear weapons in North Korea. "The absence of the waiver could have led to an embarrassing situation where progress on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program would have been delayed because of a technicality," said Leonor Tomero of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. North Korea was recently removed from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, as a reward for turning over all documents relating to the country's nuclear program.

For months, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress had argued over the bill, forcing several compromises to be made in the form of amendments. One of these amendments, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, can be described as a modern version of the World War II-era G.I. Bill. It provides lower college tuition costs for war veterans, which was originally opposed by Bush and Senate Republicans, including Presidential candidate John McCain. The Republicans conceded after Democrats agreed to add "transferability" to the bill, which allows veterans to transfer the benefits to family members.

Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid commented on the bill, saying, "At a time when 2 million men and women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and when our troops have had to endure multiple deployments ... and an unclear strategy, giving them the opportunity to fuel our future economy is the least we can do."

With the passing of this bill, Congress has provided $650 billion for the Iraq War effort, and nearly $200 billion for war operations in Afghanistan.