Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dems to OK Bush War Funds Without Conditions

By ANDREW TAYLOR | Democratic and GOP leaders in the House announced agreement Wednesday on a long-overdue war funding bill they said President Bush would be willing to sign. The agreement on the war funding bill, announced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, also paves the way for a quick infusion of emergency flood relief for the Midwest, an extension of unemployment payments for the jobless and a big boost in GI Bill college for veterans.

It would also provide about $165 billion to the Pentagon to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for about a year. That’s enough time for Bush’s successor to set Iraq policy.

“This is an agreement that has been worked out in a bipartisan way that I think is acceptable to both most Democrats and most Republicans and to the White House,” Boehner said.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the agreement contains several priorities for Democrats in the Senate but stopped short of issuing a direct endorsement, saying Reid needed to consult with his colleagues.

The agreement would require that the Senate would agree to drop most of the more than $10 billion it added last month for programs such as heating subsidies for the poor, wildfire fighting, road and bridge repair and help for the Gulf Coast.

The House is slated to pass the measure Thursday, but the Senate won’t turn to it until next week, Manley said.

The agreement drops restrictions on Bush’s ability to conduct the war and gives him almost all of the funding he sought well over a year ago for Iraq and Afghanistan. But he also backed away from veto threats he issued earlier over Democrats’ insistence on using the Iraq funding bill to carry a generous boost in the GI Bill and a 13-week extension of unemployment payments for people whose benefits have run out.

Democrats dropped a provision to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks in states with particularly high unemployment rates.

The war funding bill had bedeviled Democratic leaders for months. Its passage has become more urgent with looming furloughs next month of civilian employees and contract workers.

Conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats are upset that the new GI Bill benefits, with costs tentatively estimated at $62 billion over the next decade, will be added to the deficit instead of being “paid for” as called for under House rules.

But the White House and Republicans insisted that House Democrats’ offset — a one-half percentage point surcharge on wealthier taxpayers — was unacceptable.

Boehner and Hoyer would not immediately release details, saying the verbal agreement had yet to be written in congressional legalese.

The agreement came just a day after the Bush administration urged Congress to provide $1.8 billion in immediate disaster aid for the Midwest and elsewhere. Congress is likely to add a little more, though details had not been ironed out.

A dozen senators in both parties are pressing to add money for levee repair and help for displaced homeowners, among other pressing needs.

Democrats and governors across the country emerged the victors in a battle with the White House to block new Bush administration rules designed to cut spending on Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled.

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