By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 30, 2008 - President Bush today signed a $162 billion supplemental bill that principally will fund U.S. military operations abroad. Bush thanked congressional leaders of both parties for agreeing to provide what he described as "vital funds" to men and women in uniform serving in harm's way.
"I appreciate that Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed to provide these vital funds without tying the hands of our commanders and without an artificial timetable of withdrawal from Iraq," he said.
The bill takes shape as Iraq experiences the lowest levels of violence since March 2004. The legislation also comes to fruition as the last of the five Army brigades to deploy with the "troop surge" in Iraq prepares to return next month.
Bush announced the temporary 33,000-troop surge in January 2007 to tamp down violence in Iraq and help prepare Iraq's national security forces to maintain security. The first surge brigade returned home in March, and the final redeployment next month will reduce the number of brigades in Iraq to 15.
"We welcome them home," Bush said, referring to redeploying troops. "And with this legislation, we send a clear message to all that are serving on the front line that our nation continues to support them."
The funding also provides servicemembers a more generous education package, which for the first time could be passed to family members if troops opt not to use it themselves. Bush said transferability of GI Bill education benefits helps fulfill a debt of gratitude the nation owes military families.
"They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of caring for children while a loved one is serving far from home," he said. "We have a responsibility to provide for them, so I'm pleased that the bill I signed today includes an expansion of the GI Bill.
"It will help us to meet our responsibilities to those who support our troops every day, America's great military families," he added.
Other items in the legislation include a $465 million initiative that partners the United States with Mexico and other Central American nations in an effort to crack down on violent drug-trafficking gangs. It provides nearly $2.7 billion in relief for states that experience disasters, such as the recent flooding and tornadoes in the American Midwest. The bill also expands unemployment insurance benefits.
The president praised the legislation as an example of successful bipartisan support for members of the U.S. military.
"This bill shows the American people that even in an election year, Republicans and Democrats can come together to stand behind our troops and their families," he said.