Domestic Spending Intact as House Passes War Bill

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

In a pair of bipartisan votes, the House yesterday approved $162 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan well into 2009 and a separate measure that would allow veterans returning from those battlefields to receive increased education benefits.

The domestic spending measure, approved 416 to 12, also includes a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance for laid-off workers who have used all 26 weeks of their current benefits, and $2.65 billion for Midwest flood relief.

"It became clear this is what we had to do," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during debate over the bill. "I will enthusiastically vote for the domestic piece of this."

The emergency spending bill -- which authorizes $95.5 billion for the unemployment and veterans benefits and a variety of other programs -- heads to the Senate, where leaders say it could be approved next week.

After weeks of gridlocked negotiations, President Bush threw his support behind the legislation yesterday despite the tens of billions of dollars in domestic spending above his original demands. Despite his original preference for a slimmed-down version, Bush embraced the veterans plan drafted by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), then demanded that the education benefit be transferable from veterans to military spouses and children -- adding an estimated $1 billion a year to its cost.

"President Bush understands that military families throughout our country are making great sacrifices as their loved ones serve at home and abroad," White House press secretary Dana Perino said yesterday.

Under the program, often called the new GI Bill, veterans would receive enough money to pay even the most expensive state university tuition.

Bush and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) praised the bill's unemployment benefits, which impose limits on the extension that could save taxpayers $2 billion.

Republicans also applauded the passage of another war bill without a deadline for troop withdrawals, something Pelosi and many Democrats had sought since early last year.

"The measure provides this critical funding without bogging it down with politically motivated surrender language," Boehner said.

But Democrats claimed the bill as possibly their biggest victory over the politically diminished president. In addition to opposing the Webb bill, Bush originally contended that increased unemployment benefits were premature because an economic stimulus package enacted in February needed time to take effect, and he opposed an additional effort to rein in his power over Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor.

"He is reversing three distinct veto threats and signing them into law. If that ain't a victory, I don't know what is," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

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