WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate committee on Thursday approved another $33.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq this year, although some members said they did so reluctantly.
The action by the Senate Appropriations Committee is the first step toward congressional approval of the extra war spending that President Barack Obama requested in February to support his surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan.
But the money still must be approved by the full Senate and also by the House of Representatives, where the majority Democrats are split over the wisdom of continuing the wars.
The Senate panel unanimously approved $33.5 billion for the Pentagon for the two wars and a little under $4 billion for the State Department to help fund a “civilian stabilization strategy” to deliver more economic aid to Afghanistan as well as neighboring Pakistan.
Chairman Daniel Inouye said he hoped the Senate would act on the legislation by the end of May. The money comes on top of about $130 billion that Congress already approved for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars through September 30 of this year.
Senator Barbara Mikulski said she had “grave questions” about spending so much in Afghanistan given that its president is “running the second-most corrupt country in the world.”
While U.S. troops are fighting in Afghanistan, “the Chinese are building railroads and buying up mining interests” there, Mikulski added. But she voted for the bill.
Senator Patrick Leahy, another Democrat, echoed her concerns.
“Every cent we’ve been spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve been borrowing from others, particularly the Chinese,” he said. “It’s very, very hard to justify some of the spending for either place.”
In addition to fully funding Obama’s troop surge for Afghanistan, the Pentagon funds included money to help train and equip Afghan and Iraqi security forces — $2.6 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
It also included $1.1 billion for mine-resistant vehicles known as MRAPs.
The appropriations committee added money for other projects to the bill, including:
— $13 billion for benefits for Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
— $2.8 billion requested by the Obama administration for relief and reconstruction for Haiti after its devastating earthquake on January 12.
— $5.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everyone should be advised that the ... agency is out of funding for disaster relief,” Inouye said.
— $400 million for relief from recent floods from Tennessee to Rhode island.
— $68 million to help address the impact of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Editing by John O'Callaghan