June 30, 2008 -- WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush on Monday signed legislation topay for the war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest ofhis presidency and beyond, hailing the $162 billion plan as a rareproduct of bipartisan cooperation.
"This bill shows the American people that even in an electionyear, Republicans and Democrats can come together to support ourtroops and their families," Bush said in an Oval Office ceremony.
Bush made clear to thank members of both parties in Congress,singling out some sponsors of the long-delayed, compromise measurefor praise. His positive comments contrasted with theconfrontational tone that has dominated the debate between Congressand his administration over Iraq.
The legislation will bring to more than $650 billion the amountCongress has provided for the Iraq war since it began more thanfive years ago. For operations in Afghanistan, the total is nearly$200 billion, according to congressional officials.
"Our nation has no greater responsibility than to support ourmen in women in uniform - especially because we're at war," Bushsaid.
The package approved by Congress includes a doubling of GI Billcollege benefits for troops and veterans. It also provides a13-week extension of unemployment benefits, $2.7 billion inemergency flood relief for the Midwest, and tens of billions ofdollars for food aid, anti-drug enforcement, Louisiana leveerepairs and many other items.
The bill will fund the wars well into next year, when their fatewill be in the hands of Bush's successor.
It also gives the next president several months to set Iraqpolicy after taking office in January - and spares lawmakers theneed to cast more war funding votes closer to Election Day.
The Democratic majority in Congress has tried, unsuccessfully,to force troop withdrawals and other limits on Bush's ability toconduct the war. Bush said the bill will allow troops to prevail inIraq and Afghanistan.
"I appreciate that Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreedto provide these vital funds without tying the hands of ourcommanders and without an artificial timetable of withdrawal fromIraq," Bush said, flanked by some of his top officials, includingDefense Secretary Robert Gates.
Many war opponents in Congress, in fact, have expressedfrustration and a sense of resignation at having to yield to thelame duck president.
No lawmakers attended the ceremony, White House press secretaryDana Perino said, because "they're all out of town." Congress isin recess.
The new GI Bill essentially would guarantee a full scholarshipat any in-state public university, along with a monthly housingstipend, for people who serve in the military for at least threeyears. It is aimed at replicating the benefits awarded veterans ofWorld War II and more than doubles the value of the benefit - from$40,000 today to $90,000.
The GI Bill measure, authored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., had suchextraordinary support from both Democrats and Republicans thatWhite House objections were easily overridden. The bill also allowsveterans to transfer their benefits to their spouse or a child, anidea Bush has championed.
The White House tried much harder to kill the effort to extendunemployment benefits as part of the war funding bill. But Bush'sadministrational ultimately supported the compromise version, whichrequires people to have worked for 20 weeks in order to be eligiblefor the extended payments.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)