'Blue Dog' Democrats Join GOP in Opposing War Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she thinks a compromise is likely.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she thinks a compromise is likely. (Ken Cedeno - Bloomberg News)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday postponed consideration of a bill that would continue funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a bloc of conservative Democrats balked at the high cost of including several of Pelosi's favored domestic spending programs.

Pelosi (D-Calif.), who also faces Republican stalling tactics in protest of unusual parliamentary procedures, predicted that the complaints of "Blue Dog" Democrats would be addressed and that the bill eventually would receive unanimous support from Democrats.

"I am very confident that, next week, we will come to the floor with a bill that has the full consensus of the Democrats and hopefully can attract a large number of Republicans, as well," she told reporters.

The Blue Dogs have objected to the creation of a program that would guarantee veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan a year of in-state college tuition for each year served in the war zones. The Blue Dogs said the House had not found any additional money, through spending cuts or tax increases, to pay for the program, a violation of pay-as-you-go rules imposed by House Democrats in early 2007.

"We have a duty as a country to tend to [returning soldiers]. But we also have a duty as a country to pay for them," said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), a leader of the Blue Dog coalition.

When House Democrats unveiled the proposal earlier this week, they put its price tag at $195 billion, including more than $162.5 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, enough to keep them going well into 2009.

The bill has been divided into three pieces. The first is the war funding, which is expected to pass, largely with Republican votes. The second is a set of policy limitations on the war, including a goal of withdrawing all combat troops by December 2009. The third contains the proposed domestic spending, including the veterans' education program and an $11 billion extension of unemployment benefits.

Without the votes of most of the 47 Blue Dogs, the domestic spending provisions would have great difficulty passing the House.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) yesterday called the domestic add-ons "unnecessary extra spending" and denounced Pelosi's decision to bring the bill to the House floor without first letting the Appropriations Committee review it. To show their displeasure, Republicans forced procedural votes this week that delayed consideration of the bill.

Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee are poised to approve their own bill that would provide more funding than Pelosi's initial proposal, including $6 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

That bill may face a Republican filibuster because of its price tag, raising the possibility that the Senate would turn to the House bill.

Either way, the Senate is expected to strip the provision calling for troop withdrawal and, if Democrats can round up the 60 votes needed to fight off GOP objections, send a bill with war funds and domestic spending back to the House.

"The Senate will work its will, and it will probably come back to us, and we will send it to the president. And, yes, we intend to do that by Memorial Day break," Pelosi said.

However, President Bush has announced his opposition to any bill that contains veterans' benefits and unemployment insurance in addition to the war funds.

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