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By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Democrats will more than fully fund President George W. Bush’s request for money to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, but are still debating conditions that could be attached, senior lawmakers said on Thursday.
“There will be $98 billion for the military part,” about $5 billion above the Bush administration’s request, said Rep. John Murtha, chairman of a defense spending panel overseeing war funds.
Murtha told reporters Democrats were still discussing provisions he wants to attach requiring that U.S. troops have proper training, adequate equipment and enough rest before being deployed into combat. “We don’t have it yet. We keep going back and refining it,” Murtha said.
But he sketched out a certification process that could be tougher than one floated earlier this week in which Bush would have been given flexibility to “waive” Murtha’s requirements.
Republicans and many conservative Democrats have expressed opposition to adding such conditions. That has forced House Democratic leaders to try to find a compromise that allows them to say they are working to phase out the war while also fully funding troops already in Iraq.
The additional money House Democrats want to add in includes $1 billion more for U.S. troops girding for a spring offensive in Afghanistan, Murtha said, and nearly $1 billion more to treat wounded American soldiers suffering from brain injuries and psychological problems related to combat.
With other add-ons to the massive spending bill, including more U.S. Gulf Coast rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, possible aid to farmers who have suffered crop losses and around $3 billion added in to help close some U.S. military bases and modernize others, the price tag could rise significantly above $100 billion, according to several lawmakers and congressional aides.
Rep. Bill Young of Florida, the senior Republican on the House Appropriations defense panel, said lawmakers were still negotiating over whether money should be included in the emergency war spending bill to fund F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to replace F-16s lost in Iraq.
The airplanes, to be built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT.N), would not be delivered for another three years, according to some estimates. Young said he supported funding the purchase now.
Murtha was one of the earliest and highest profile members of Congress to call for an end to the Iraq war in late 2005 and since then he has come under sharp attack from Republicans.
But in seeking conditions on war funds, Murtha has insisted that he is simply calling on the Pentagon to follow its own criteria for the training of soldiers and their duration in combat.
The former Marine says he is concerned about stressed American troops and an overall weakening of the military four years after the Iraq war started.
Speaking to reporters, Murtha said that during a recent visit to a military base he was looking at a seven-ton truck “and the damn seat fell out.” Humvee vehicles, used to move troops around Iraq, have been outfitted with heavy armor, but lack strong enough suspension systems and engines to support them, Murtha complained.