WASHINGTON – The White House and leading House Democrats agreed Wednesday on a massive emergency spending bill that would provide more than $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and create an education benefit for veterans of those battlefields.
Moving toward the end of the last fight of his tenure over Iraq war funding, President Bush yielded to Democratic demands to include the veterans benefit and a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for a reduction in other domestic spending and no tax increases.
The House expects to pass the legislation today and send it to the Senate for consideration next week. Aides worked into the night on the final details of the plan, which is expected to include $2.6 billion for disaster relief for those affected by the Midwest floods.
But some senators, particularly those on the Appropriations Committee, are threatening to add spending for domestic causes. Any Senate amendments would require the House to reconsider the legislation, probably after the week-long congressional recess for the July 4th holiday.
Congressional Democrats and Bush were deadlocked for weeks over the scope of the veterans education plan and unemployment benefits. House Democrats were adamant about including tax increases to fund the veterans benefit, but the Senate and the White House were opposed.
House Democrats acknowledged weeks ago that language they wanted that would establish Iraq withdrawal timelines could not pass the Senate.
“We’re working on a bill that funds the troops, ensures as well that the returning troops will have the full GI education benefits that World War II veterans had. And in addition we want to help those who lost jobs through no fault of their own,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
The director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jim Nussle, said the White House had been pragmatic in signing off on higher-education benefits for returning veterans, including a Pentagon-sought provision allowing the benefits to transfer to the spouses and children of veterans.
“We had what we thought was a much more fiscally responsible approach,” he said. “However, we can also see the votes that were put up for this. … We would rather support the veterans and get this benefit out to them.”
The veterans benefit, drafted by Sen. James Webb, D-Va., won overwhelming support in previous votes in the House and the Senate. Making the benefit transferable to family members raised the 10-year cost of the plan from $52 billion to $62 billion.
The House bill will be considered today in two parts, allowing most Democrats to oppose the war funding and some Republicans to oppose the domestic spending.
The $162 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be enough for the Pentagon to continue operations well into 2009.