Senate set to approve war funding

May 21, 2008 7:20:50 PM PDT
The Senate is slated to vote Thursday on providing $165 billion to fund Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the new administration takes over next year. A plan announced Wednesday night by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would give great leverage to Republicans and would probably doom billions of dollars in domestic programs sought by Democrats, including 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for the jobless.

It would likely kill funding for heating subsidies, fighting Western wildfires and aid to rural schools, among many programs backed by senators in both parties despite a promised veto from President Bush.

In exchange, GOP leaders would allow a vote on a big expansion of education benefits for veterans under the GI Bill. GOP leaders hope to block the amendment in order to send a "clean" war funding bill back to the House, but Democrats expressed hope they would win the 60 votes needed to adopt it.

The White House has promised to veto the additional veterans education benefits, arguing they would hurt efforts to re-enlist troops finishing their stints in the service.

Democrats still held out some hope for almost $28 billion in non-defense spending, though it would require them to win over a dozen or more Republicans in a vote Thursday - a difficult task at best.

The deal reached between Reid and his GOP counterpart, Sen.

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, would also provide for passage of Bush's funding request without restrictions on his conduct of the Iraq war.

The deal, if passed on Thursday, would send the war funding bill to the House in hopes it would soon reach Bush's desk.

The plan would involve a series of votes on Thursday. Among the items that would be dropped is a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for people whose benefits have run out.

Bush has been resolute in promising to veto any measure that exceeds his pending $178 billion request for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year. Such vows have involved the expansion in veterans college aid as well, though the GI Bill expansion is popular with many Republicans and would be a difficult veto to actually carry out.

Sixty votes - equal to what's needed to overcome filibusters - would be required to pass any part of the plan.

Under the proposal, the Senate would first vote - and is expected to reject - a bill pending before the Senate that's replete with domestic programs added by both Democrats and Republicans.

Then the Senate would turn to the GI Bill expansion, which is aimed at guaranteeing returning Iraq war veterans the equivalent of a four-year education at a public university. It would cost $52 billion over the next decade.

Next would come a vote on $165 billion worth of Pentagon funding to carry the war into the next administration.

Republicans are expected to block a Democratic plan to urge Bush to begin redeployment of combat troops and place other strings on his ability to conduct the war in Iraq. After that vote, the Senate would immediately vote - and pass - the war funding measure. If Democrats are successful, the war funding measure would likely move to the House in tandem with the education proposal.

The House would be unlikely to act until Congress returns from a one-week recess.