Iraq Funds Approved In Senate Budget Bill

By Paul Kane and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Senate last night approved a $555 billion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, shortly after bowing to President Bush's demand for $70 billion in unrestricted funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats had vowed only weeks ago to withhold any Iraq-specific money unless strict timelines for troop withdrawal were established, but they instead chose, on a 70 to 25 vote, to remove what appeared to be the final obstacle to sending the spending bill to the White House, where Bush has indicated he will sign it. Senators then passed the omnibus bill, 76 to 17.

The House must still approve the revised spending bill, with the unrestricted war funds, but Democrats there concede the measure is likely to pass behind strong Republican support.

Senate leaders also fell short on finding a way to pay for changes to the alternative minimum tax. The chamber had already passed a measure to keep 23 million households, most of them upper-middle-income, from being hit with the AMT next year, but many House Democrats sought to offset the loss of $50 billion to the Treasury from the tax "patch," and so senior Democrats offered up a series of tax increases to cover the cost.

Republicans and some Democrats held firm against any tax increase, though, and the proposal, with a vote of 48 to 46 in favor, fell far short of the 60 votes needed to pass. The House now appears ready to pass the AMT measure without any offset.

Also, senators approved both a six-month delay in a scheduled 10 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients and a temporary extension of a children's health insurance program.

With yesterday evening's flurry of activity after days of internal battles on their endgame strategy, Democrats hope to wrap up their first year in power on both sides of the Capitol since 1994. With Iraq war funding dominating debate and overshadowing other achievements, Bush could claim another victory over rivals who took power on an antiwar platform.

"When is enough enough?" asked Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who supported an amendment that would have required troop withdrawal from Iraq and a cutoff of combat funds within nine months. "I urge my colleagues to vote against this gigantic blank check."

But Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the retiring minority whip, countered that "we're doing the right thing here for our men and women in uniform." By beating back the Democratic restrictions on Bush's war powers, Lott said, "we're going to get this omnibus bill done in a way we can be proud of."

The troop-withdrawal amendment, offered by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), failed on a 24 to 71 vote. None of the four Democrats running for president -- Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) -- returned from the campaign trail for the vote, which failed for the third time this year to clear a 60-vote hurdle imposed by Republicans.

A nonbinding Democratic alternative that would have redeployed forces to counterterrorism missions and Iraq border security also failed.

"A political solution is the only way to end the conflict, and ending the conflict is in [the Iraqi government's] own hands," said Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee and sponsor of the nonbinding amendment.

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