Dems eye new war bill for so­cial pro­grams; Bush vows to veto add-ons

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

House Demo­cratic lead­ers, ac­knowl­edg­ing that they can­not force a U.S. pull­out from Iraq, plan to use the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s $108 bil­lion war re­quest as a ve­hi­cle to pass bil­lions of dol­lars in elec­tion-year do­mes­tic spend­ing.

“I re­ject the pres­i­dent’s view that all this sup­ple­men­tal should be is for spend­ing money over­seas,” House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Mary­land Demo­crat, said April 30. “We be­lieve Amer­i­cans have needs.”

He cited sev­eral do­mes­tic pro­grams, in­clud­ing Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina re­lief and the ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, but said the lead­er­ship was still work­ing out the de­tails of the bill, which is ex­pected to be in­tro­duced late this week.

Items on the bar­gain­ing ta­ble in­clude a new GI Bill for col­lege tu­ition that would cost as much as $4 bil­lion, an ex­pan­sion of un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits that would cost about $12.7 bil­lion and an ex­ten­sion of tax cred­its for re­new­able-en­ergy projects that would cost as much as $17 bil­lion.

Echo­ing threats that he made and kept last year, Mr. Bush said he will veto a sup­ple­men­tal war-fund­ing bill that ex­ceeds his $108 bil­lion spend­ing limit or that mi­cro­man­ages the war or “ties the hands of our com­man­ders.”

But the war-fund­ing bill is ex­pected to in­clude troop-with­drawal lan­guage, Demo­cratic lead­er­ship aides said, which likely will serve more as lever­age to win do­mes­tic spend­ing rather than to ac­tu­ally force a mil­i­tary re­de­ploy­ment.

The $108 bil­lion war re­quest would fund com­bat op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan for the re­main­der of fis­cal 2008. Congress late last year ap­proved tem­po­rary war spend­ing — or a fund­ing “patch” — that will be­gin to run out this month.

The pres­i­dent’s veto threat riled Rep. David R. Obey, chair­man of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, who said Mr. Bush “seems to think that he can is­sue pro­nounce­ments like the great Yoda and that the Amer­i­can peo­ple and the Congress will com­ply.”

“That is not the way a democ­racy is sup­posed to work,” the Wis­con­sin Demo­crat said. “This is not the time for the pres­i­dent to hold his breath and turn blue. It’s time for rea­son­able adults to com­pro­mise for the good of the coun­try.”

He said that the war costs $339 mil­lion a day and sug­gested that the money would be bet­ter used pay­ing for health in­sur­ance for 2.6 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, hous­ing for 48,000 home­less vet­er­ans, hir­ing of 2,060 more Border Pa­trol agents or col­lege tu­ition grants for 18,000 more stu­dents.

Demo­cratic lead­ers, who last year re­peat­edly lost stand­offs with the White House over war funds and pull­out plans, are link­ing the high price of the war to the United States’ eco­nomic woes and stress­ing the per­sis­tent blood­shed in Iraq, al- though the surge of U.S. forces last year dra­mat­i­cally re­duced vi­o­lence.

“May 1 marks the fifth an­niver­sary since Bush de­clared ‘mis­sion ac­com­plished’ in Iraq,” Mr. Hoyer told re­porters on Capi­tol Hill. “The surge has not brought the po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that was pro­jected. [. . . ] The Amer­i­can pub­lic and the Democrats be­lieve we need a change in di­rec­tion.”

House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, has said his cau­cus will re­main uni­fied on the war is­sue and ready to sus­tain a pres­i­den­tial veto.

“We don’t know how they are go­ing to try and do this [bill],” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “The thing we start with is ‘no pork, no sur­ren­der.’ ”

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