Heading into recess, Senate passes war funding bills

The U.S. Senate on Saturday authorized $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and nearly $463 billion for defense programs in the fiscal year that begins on Sunday.

The early-morning passage marked the final bill approved by Congress before a long recess so that lawmakers can campaign for re-election on November 7.

The measure now goes to President George W. Bush for signing into law.

On Friday, Congress sent Bush a fiscal 2007 spending bill with the actual money to keep the Iraq and Afghanistan wars operating. That spending bill also had a record $447 billion in military funds.

Lawmakers called the $70 billion for the wars a "bridge fund" to last about halfway through the next fiscal year. About $23 billion of that is to replace and refurbish equipment worn out in the harsh environments of the two conflicts.

The defense authorization bill sets out policies for the Pentagon and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs. It also allows a 2.2 percent pay raise for military personnel.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, held up passage of the defense bill until he won assurances that Congress, in a post-election session later this year, will try to place better controls on defense spending by requiring more public disclosure.

Congress usually passes the defense policy bill before the spending bill. But the policy bill was stalled in a conference with the Senate over a bid by House Republicans to let military chaplains offer denominational prayers at nondenominational events. That eventually was struck from the bill.