WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday signed into law a defense bill that authorizes a 3.5 percent pay raise for troops and addresses his concerns about exposing Iraq to costly lawsuits.
Bush had rejected an earlier version of the bill late last year 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.
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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. Bush, in signing the law, immediately invoked that authority and waived the law's application to Iraq.
"He appreciates the cooperation of both House and Senate leaders to quickly address the concerns raised by the president over the Christmas holiday," White House press secretary Dana Perino said of Bush. "Congress passed the legislation swiftly, and that is a very good thing for our troops and the Iraqi people."
The revised $696 billion bill makes a 3.5 percent pay raise for troops 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 have said that Bush's earlier opposition to the bill delayed various benefit programs for troops, including the pay raise.