Sen. Webb’s GI Bill to be Added to Iraq War Spending Bill

The New York Times

May 6, 2008, Washington, DC – Defying President Bush, House Democrats are preparing to forge ahead with a war spending measure that would include extended unemployment assistance and new educational benefits for returning veterans.

After a meeting Monday evening of House Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped to bring a $178 billion measure to the floor this week. What could be a contentious debate on the matter is likely to be held on Thursday, aides said.

Ms. Pelosi, of California, did not disclose details of the proposed bill, which will be presented to rank-and-file Democrats at a closed party session on Tuesday. But Democratic officials, who did not want to be identified since the bill was still being put into final form, said the legislative package would include provisions requiring a significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq by December 2009 and measures that would force Iraq to share more costs of its reconstruction.

Democrats also intend to make veterans eligible for new educational assistance if they have served from three months to three years or more on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The aid would be equivalent to a four-year scholarship at a public university for those with three years or more service, with payments prorated for those with less time.

Mr. Bush has steadily insisted he would not approve any legislation that exceeds his spending request for the war, sets any withdrawal deadlines or adds domestic money he opposes like the unemployment benefits. And House Republicans, angry that the measure is not going through formal committee consideration, began on Monday to open procedural attacks on the House floor in protest, forcing extra votes on noncontroversial measures.

“The Democrat leaders of the House and Senate are attempting to jam a 200-plus-billion-dollar spending bill through the Congress with absolutely no oversight or scrutiny by a vast majority of members, senators or their constituents,” Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement on Monday. “Never in my 30 years in Congress has there been such an abuse of the processes and rules of the House.”

Democrats said privately that they expected the provisions setting a withdrawal deadline and putting other conditions on the war money to be eliminated by the Senate before a final House vote later this spring.

The Democratic strategy is to try to hold the underlying measure close to Mr. Bush’s bottom line number — $108 billion in Pentagon money for the current year, $70 billion through the first months of 2009 — and essentially dare him to veto it over added veterans spending and the unemployment aid.

Democrats say that they believe Republicans will be reluctant to oppose the expanded veterans money in an election year and that the cost is relatively small in the first year, though it would expand quickly and significantly in subsequent years. Republicans in both the House and Senate have been assembling alternatives to the Democratic veterans plan, which has some bipartisan support.

Mr. Bush said last week that he was willing to consider more help for veterans but wanted to do it separately from the war financing measure.

The House provisions calling for a withdrawal from Iraq would also include a ban on torture of terrorism detainees, a prohibition on permanent bases in Iraq and new readiness requirements for troops, including more time at home between deployments.

Given the looming election and the stalemate last year over federal spending, many lawmakers see the must-pass war spending bill as the lone spending measure likely to become law this year, increasing the incentive to add money and policy measures to it. Senators of both parties have indicated that they might use the war legislation as a vehicle to push their own priorities.

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