Senate Passes ‘Dignity for Wounded Warriors’ in New Defense Bill

CBS Evening News

January 22, 2008 (AP) The Senate voted Tuesday to approve a revised defense bill authorizing a 3.5 percent pay raise for troops while sidestepping a veto showdown with President Bush.

The 91-3 vote sends the $696 billion measure to Bush for his expected signature.

The president had rejected an earlier version of the bill because of a provision that would have guaranteed that victims of state-sponsored abuse can sue foreign governments in court and collect judgments by seizing its assets inside the United States. Bush said that would have exposed Iraq to high-dollar lawsuits over abuse during the Saddam Hussein era at a time when the country is struggling to rebuild its infrastructure.

The administration estimated that Iraq had more than $25 billion of assets invested in the U.S. that could be tied up in litigation.

Democrats reluctantly revised the measure to allow Bush to grant immunity to Iraq, so long as he determines that doing so promotes Iraqi reconstruction and that Baghdad remains a “reliable ally” in the war on terror.

The House passed the new bill last week by a 369-46 vote.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who sponsored the provision on abuse lawsuits, said the final bill still achieved his goal of “providing justice for American victims of terrorism at the hands of terrorist states like Iran and Libya.”

“I will not rest until all American victims of terrorism get the justice they deserve,” he added.

The revised bill also makes the 3.5 percent pay raise retroactive to Jan. 1.

The decision to change the bill without trying to challenge Bush’s rejection reflects the difficulty Democrats have had in challenging the president on even minor issues. Democrats lack the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush’s veto was a “terrible mistake” because it delayed implementation of the various benefit programs for troops included in the bill, including the pay raise.

The bill does not include a provision to bring troops home, as Democrats want. But they say they will try again this year with legislation aimed at giving soldiers and Marines more rest between combat tours, as well as measures intended to curb contracting abuse.

“Most Republicans chose to stuck with the president on Iraq, and it devastated our armed forces,” said Reid, D-Nev.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes Democrats will give up trying to bring troops home by a certain date.

“It was wrong to tempt fate when our progress in Iraq was uncertain,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “It would be foolish to do so when progress is undeniable.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush is expected to sign the revised measure.

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