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