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War Funding Bill Stalls in House

Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), left, Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), foreground center, and other House Republicans discuss the war spending bill rejected by the House. Boehner, the minority leader, called the measure a "political scheme."
Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), left, Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), foreground center, and other House Republicans discuss the war spending bill rejected by the House. Boehner, the minority leader, called the measure a "political scheme." (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)

Troops would get more rest between combat deployments, and every branch of government -- including the Central Intelligence Agency -- would have to abide by the Army Field Manual's guidelines on interrogation, which bans action that amount to torture. Those policy prescriptions passed the House by 227 to 196, with a surprising eight Republican votes, including Reps. Michael N. Castle (Del.), Christopher Shays (Conn.) and James T. Walsh (N.Y.).

On the domestic side, unemployment compensation would be extended for 13 weeks. Regulations the Bush administration hoped to impose to restrict access to the Medicaid program would be blocked. Funds would be provided for international food aid, levees around New Orleans, federal prisons and the 2010 Census. And the G.I, Bill passed after World War II for an earlier generation of veterans would be updated.

That domestic portion passed 256 to 166, with 32 Republicans voting yes.

The politically controversial expanded G.I. Bill was expected to give momentum to the House measure. The provision, written by Sens. James Webb (D-Va.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.), would cover the costs of school at even the most expensive state universities for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and would encourage private universities to provide additional student aid for them. The House bill would pay for the benefit with a surtax of half a percentage point on income over $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for couples.

The measure has attracted broad bipartisan support, but it is opposed by Bush because of its cost, its tax increase and fears that its generosity could entice service members to leave the military rather than reenlist at the end of their tours. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, has put forward a less generous alternative that would save its richest benefits for service members doing multiple tours.

But McCain's efforts have run into bipartisan opposition -- from lawmakers, veterans organizations and educators. Former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, a close McCain ally, came out for Webb's measure yesterday.

"I have tremendous regard for Senator McCain, but I can't figure out where he is right now," said Dartmouth College President James Wright, a former Marine who helped negotiate the Webb-Warner language. "It seems to me our posture as a nation cannot be to say to servicemen and -women, 'We do not value you unless you reenlist.' That wasn't the contract they signed."

The House actions were a dream come true for the antiwar movement.

"It is time now for Americans to be heard and for this Congress to move forward with the safe redeployment of our troops," exulted Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) who called on the House to use the $162.5 billion in war funds for domestic priorities.

"For the first time ever, the U.S. House has now taken decisive action to bring this war to a close," declared Alan Charney, program director of the antiwar group USAction.

When the Senate takes up the bill, its version will include war funding, but prescriptions on troop withdrawals and torture will probably fall to a GOP filibuster. Republicans have argued that any tax increase is unacceptable, especially in a time of economic slowdown. Even Democratic leaders in the Senate have said they will oppose the House's tax increase to pay for veterans benefits.

More unclear is the future of the education benefits, as well as domestic spending that Bush has vowed to veto but will garner considerable support in both parties. The Senate also is expected to go along with House efforts to force the Iraqi government to shoulder more of its reconstruction and self-defense costs.

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