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Senate Slights President in $165B War Funds Bill

BY Admin  May 22, 2008 at 4:40 PM EST

President Bush at Fort Bragg; AP photo

The war funding measure, which passed 70-26, will be combined with a domestic spending package that includes expanded veterans’ education benefits among other programs.

The House still must weigh in on the legislation. Last week, it passed a drastically different bill that included calls for a timetable on the withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Iraq.

The vote came after Mr. Bush urged Congress to pass a war funding bill without congressional add-ons during a speech to troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Senators cut out all language mandating how the Iraq war is to be conducted that had been the House version. The bill provides funds into next spring, when Mr. Bush’s successor begins to set war policy.

The separate domestic spending package, which passed 75-22, served notice to the White House that Congress wants to combine spending in Iraq with priorities at home during this election year. Republicans who face
reelection broke first on the amendment, followed by GOP senators, the Washington Post reported.

Mr. Bush has promised to veto any measure that adds domestic spending to his $108 billion war funds request. The White House was against an expanded G.I. Bill, saying the cost was too high and that the generous program could entice soldiers and Marines to depart the overburdened military to earn veterans benefits rather than reenlist.

The domestic spending package includes $15.6 billion over two years to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and more than $50 billion over the upcoming decade to provide returning Iraq war veterans with increased college aid.

Among the add-ons included in the legislation, some 25 Republicans abandoned Mr. Bush to endorse money for grants to local police departments, repairing roads damaged by natural disasters and boosting health
research. Just 22 stood with him.

Such initiatives included $5.8 billion to strengthen New Orleans levees, as requested by the administration, plus $3.1 billion to help Louisiana ”match” federal contributions, and $1 billion for Mississippi coastal protection.

There was also $850 million for international food aid, $1.9 billion for military construction projects, and several billion dollars in various foreign aid programs — all requested by the administration.

Unemployment benefits would be extended for workers whose benefits have run out. The extension would cover up to 13 weeks nationwide and an additional 13 weeks in states with unemployment rates of 6 percent or
greater, including Michigan, Alaska and California. The cost is estimated at $11.1 billion over 10 years.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive GOP nominee, opposed the bulked-up domestic spending. He advocated a smaller version of the G.I. Bill, adopting the administration’s argument that the original version
would deplete the military. In so doing, McCain went against the wishes of virtually every veterans organization, from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion to the more partisan VoteVets.org,

McCain did not interrupt his campaign schedule to vote, but Democratic rivals, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, did.

The House is likely to consider its next step in early June after lawmakers return from a week-long recess.