WASHINGTON – House Democrats are likely to drop a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance benefits from a major spending package that includes continued funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would create a new education benefit for military veterans returning from the battlefields.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday the unemployment insurance provision would “probably not” be part of the final package of war and domestic spending, which has become the most important legislative battle this spring between congressional Democrats and President Bush.
After huddling in the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for more than two hours Tuesday, House Democrats emerged to say they were still undecided about how to pare down the overall cost of the supplemental spending bill.
“I’ll do what I do when I do it, but I don’t telegraph it ahead of time,” House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said after a meeting of the Democratic leadership of both chambers.
The version of the bill approved by the Senate on May 22 would cost more than $250 billion over 10 years, a price tag that the fiscally conservative caucus of “Blue Dog” House Democrats opposes. It would provide $165 billion to fund the two wars into the next presidency, along with billions of dollars more for domestic programs.
The unemployment insurance provision is one of several measures likely to be cut in an effort to win the support of Blue Dogs and increase opposition to a veto that President Bush has threatened over several aspects of the bill.
Aides and lawmakers said there is general agreement on a final version of the bill that would give the Pentagon about $165 billion in war funds and the new education benefit.