Lawmakers rush to make deadline
House votes to raise pay 3.4 percent for military
WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ensure the jobless don’t lose their benefits, spearheading a flurry of legislative activity as lawmakers hurried to finish their work for the year.
On the last day of what has been a tumultuous year, the House also took action to prevent the government from defaulting on its mushrooming debt.
The Senate, meanwhile, could be looking at another week of work as Democrats struggle to pass the health care bill and act on other must-do measures. It is expected to vote today or Saturday on the defense bill passed by the House.
The $636 billion Pentagon bill includes $128 billion to pay for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but leaves for later negotiations on how to pay for the 30,000 additional troops recently ordered to Afghanistan.
The measure passed 395-34 with almost no debate. Defense measures generally enjoy wide bipartisan support, although this year Republicans objected to using the legislation as the base bill to which other, less popular measures were attached.
Those included two-month extensions on several acts that are to expire at the end of the year. There are continued unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, a 65 percent health insurance subsidy for the unemployed, highway and transit funding, three provisions of the anti-terror USA Patriot Act and an act that shields doctors from a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments.
Those short-term extensions, a result of the House and Senate failing to work out differences, will require Congress to revisit these issues in February and could spell trouble for the already crowded Democratic agenda. Democrats have said they want to devote the early days of next year to such critical issues as jobs, financial regulatory overhaul and an energy bill.
There was also grumbling on the usual inclusion of special projects requested by individual lawmakers. Taxpayers for Common Sense estimated that the bill contains 1,720 such projects worth $4.2 billion.
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