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Senate sends Obama a defense bill that also extends jobless benefits

The Senate passes a $636-billion defense appropriations bill that also has money for a two-month extension of unemployment benefits. Republicans fought unsuccessfully to delay its approval.

December 20, 2009|By Andrew Zajac

Reporting from Washington — The Senate on Saturday passed a $636-billion defense appropriations bill that includes money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a 3.4% pay hike for the military and a two-month extension of unemployment benefits.

The bill was approved, 88-10, after Democrats blocked a Republican attempt to delay the measure's passage in an effort to slow debate on controversial healthcare legislation.

The defense bill provides $508 billion for regular Defense Department operations and $128.3 billion for the wars.

The war funding does not include money for President Obama's plan to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The White House has not submitted a funding request to finance the troop buildup.

As the last major spending bill of the year, the legislation also carried about $13.3 billion in non-defense spending, most of it for temporary extensions of several domestic programs Congress didn't have time to consider separately.

Lawmakers extended through February a package of emergency unemployment and healthcare benefits that had been part of this year's economic stimulus package. Those benefits include health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers under a federal program known as COBRA. The benefit had been due to expire at the end of this month.

Lawmakers also temporarily reauthorized portions of the USA Patriot Act and provided Medicare funding to forestall for two months a scheduled 21% cut in payments to doctors who treat patients in the government health program for the elderly.

Senators voted on the bill after defeating a Republican effort to filibuster the legislation on Friday.

Most of the defense spending had broad support, but Republicans sought the delay to express their displeasure with Congress' inability to consider non-defense items separately and to slow progress on the healthcare legislation.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, complained that the bill was laden with earmarks.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said that several of the non-defense items in the bill, such as the unemployment benefits extension, were sorely needed in the face of a lagging economy.

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