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Congress approves IMF gold sales, line of credit

Section: Daily Dispatches

Congress Backs War-Funding Bill, 'Cash for Clunkers'

By Brian Faler
Bloomberg News
Thursday, June 18, 2009

WASHINGTON -- A $106 billion war-spending bill won final congressional approval after the Senate voted to retain a "cash for clunkers" provision aimed at helping the auto industry.

Action by the Senate today sends the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Senate passed the bill on a 91 to 5 vote; the House approved the measure earlier this week.

Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, led the effort to drop a provision providing as much as $4,500 to people who trade in their vehicles for more fuel-efficient models. He said the plan, which would cost $1 billion, was a poor use of tax dollars when the government is projected to run its biggest budget deficit since 1945.

"It is a clunker," Gregg said of the plan. "Why should our children and our grandchildren have to pay the bill" for the government subsidizing "somebody to buy their car today? How fiscally irresponsible is that?" he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said the proposal was needed to help auto dealers hit by an "economic tsunami." She said the plan would "help those who have been having an extremely difficult time just holding their head above water."

The legislation provides more than $82 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would bring total spending on the wars to more than $900 billion.

Voting against the bill in the Senate were Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Lawmakers included in the bill $2.7 billion to buy eight C-17 aircraft made by Boeing Co. and seven C-130 aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. Another $600 million would go to purchase four F-22 aircraft, also produced by Lockheed Martin.

Lawmakers agreed to Obama's request to include $5 billion to secure $108 billion in aid, primarily in the form of a line of credit, to the International Monetary Fund. The legislation would permit U.S. representatives to the IMF to agree to its planned sale of 13 million ounces of gold, one-eighth of the organization's holdings, to help finance aid to poor countries.

The bill also would provide $7.7 billion for pandemic flu programs.

The "cash for clunkers" provision provides temporary rebates to those buying cars that get at least 4 miles more per gallon than their trade-ins. Truck purchases could qualify if the purchased vehicle gets as little as 1 more mile per gallon than the trade-in.

The purchased vehicles, which must be new and cost no more than $45,000, must be bought between July 1 and Nov. 1 to qualify. Critics, including some Democrats, said the plan would subsidize the purchase of gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles while not helping the market for used hybrid cars.

Backers of "cash for clunkers" needed 60 votes to thwart Gregg’s bid to strip it from the bill, and they hit that mark exactly. The vote to retain the provision was 60-36. Lawmakers split largely along party lines, with just four Republicans backing the program and only one Democrat opposing it.

Other provisions would allow the Pentagon to transfer suspected terrorists held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S. for trial, though not for long-term incarceration or release.

Lawmakers set aside $534 million for special payments to troops who have served under “stop-loss” orders that have prevented them from returning home at the end of their regular tours. The bill would provide $500 for every extra month served since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The White House has said the legislation will be the last time the administration relies so-called "supplemental" appropriations bills to pay for war-related expenses.

Such bills, which are considered outside Congress’s annual budget process and are exempt from yearly spending caps, are supposed to be reserved for unexpected expenses. Former President George W. Bush relied on the bills to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, which critics, including some Republican lawmakers, said made it more difficult to keep spending in check.

The bill is H.R. 2346.

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