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Republicans balk at war funding tactics

Fri., May 16, 2008, midnight

WASHINGTON – A war-funding measure passed the House of Representatives Thursday, but without any war funding.

As strange as that may sound, this is Congress, after all.

Democratic leaders divided the emergency war-funding measure into different parts. The part that President Bush most wants – money for the troops – went down to defeat after many Republicans refused to support it in a protest against Democrats.

The House approved, largely along party lines, the other parts – setting timelines for troop withdrawals, providing money to extend unemployment benefits and imposing a new tax on higher-income taxpayers to pay for a new veterans’ education benefit.

But the White House has threatened to veto those provisions.

Thursday’s action underscored the heightened state of tension in Congress in this politically charged election year. But it didn’t spell doom for the president’s request for more than $166 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into early 2009.

Ultimately, Congress is expected to send Bush a bill funding military operations, especially because lawmakers are sensitive about being accused at election time of not supporting the troops.

The funding portion of the bill failed in the House because Republicans were angry that Democrats wrote the bill without GOP input, bypassing the Appropriations Committee and putting the $184 billion measure on the House floor without giving GOP lawmakers much time to read it. Democrats brushed off the complaint, saying they were following the same procedures used when Republicans controlled Congress.

While Democrats and Republicans were warring on the House floor, a Senate committee worked to write that chamber’s version of the war-spending measure. The Senate bill calls for more spending for domestic programs than the White House supports.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the committee chairman and a fierce guardian of congressional prerogatives, signaled that he was prepared to confront the White House over the added domestic spending, even at age 90.

The war spending measure is likely to be the only appropriations bill to emerge this year. As a result, senators from both parties were scrambling to add money for favored programs.

The Senate bill also included a provision to help farmers struggling with labor shortages. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, added a provision to give up to 1.35 million undocumented farm workers temporary legal status for five years.


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