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Archive for Friday, May 23, 2008

Bush dealt defeat on war spending

Senate ignores threat of veto, adds money for domestic programs

May 23, 2008

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— In a stunning vote that illustrated President Bush's diminished standing, the Senate on Thursday ignored his veto threat and added tens of billions of dollars for veterans and the unemployed to his Iraq war spending bill.

A majority of Republicans broke ranks with Bush on a veto-proof 75-22 vote while adding more than $10 billion for various other domestic programs, including heating subsidies for the poor, wildfire fighting, road and bridge repair, and health research.

Democrats crowed about their victory. But the developments meant more confusion about when the must-pass measure might actually become law and what the final version will contain.

Senators voted 70-26 to approve $165 billion to fulfill Bush's request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring, when Bush's successor will set war policy. Overall, the measure contains $212 billion over the coming two years - $28 billion more than the administration sought - plus about $50 billion more through 2017 for veterans' education benefits.

Bush has promised to veto the Iraq spending if it exceeds his request. He has enough GOP support in the House to sustain a veto.

But the spectacle of 25 Senate Republicans abandoning the White House and voting to extend jobless benefits by 13 weeks and boost the GI Bill to provide veterans enough money to pay for a four-year education at a public institution made it plain that Bush's influence is waning.

"He has no political capital left," said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah.

"What influence?" said a triumphant Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader. Reid had been skeptical of adding dozens of items favored by the free-spending Appropriations Committee to Bush's war request.

But the committee's plan contained so many smaller items favored by senators in both parties - including money for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, NASA, and additional food and drug safety inspectors - that even GOP conservatives such as Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo of Idaho rebuffed the White House. The duo were strong supporters of $400 million to subsidize schools in rural counties hit hard by declines in timber revenues.

The bill also contained $490 million for grants to local police departments, $451 million to repair roads damaged by natural disasters, $200 million for the space shuttle program, and $400 million for National Institutes of Health research projects.

The Senate action sent the bill back to the House, which last week endorsed the help for veterans and the unemployed, but kept its version clean of most other domestic programs. The House also included a one-half of a percentage point income tax surcharge on wealthier people to pay for the expanded GI bill.

The House also failed to approve the war money in a vote last week. Republicans unhappy with the Democrats' add-ons joined with anti-war lawmakers to defeat it.

Because of the differences between the two versions, it will take weeks to pass a final compromise, which Bush is expected to veto, and then send him one he can sign.

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