War Funding Splits House, Senate Democrats
After long delays, House Democrats muscled the approximately $80 billion measure to passage Thursday night as their final act before leaving for a weeklong Fourth of July break. But the Senate passed a significantly slimmer measure in May and it will take additional weeks to reconcile the differences between the rival chambers of Congress.
It's just the latest disconnect between the battling House and Senate, which also have been unable to approve an extension of unemployment benefits and other economic stimulus steps. Repeated Senate filibusters are chiefly to blame, but Democratic leaders in the House and Senate also have disagreed on strategy and tactics, and long-simmering tensions have reached the boiling point.
House leaders went ahead with Thursday's measure despite ample evidence that they have limited leverage in forcing the Senate to accept the more than $20 billion in domestic spending add-ons, such as $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for Pell Grants to low-income college students and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The White House weighed in with a veto threat over $800 million in cuts to education programs that would be used to help pay for the additional domestic spending under a "pay-as-you-go" culture that the administration itself advocates.
The measure is anchored by a nearly $60 billion Senate-passed measure that blends $30 billion for the influx of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan with money for disaster aid accounts, foreign aid and disability benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
The House measure will receive a cold shoulder from Senate Republicans, who would have the votes to filibuster it, according to Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, a senior Republican whose support was central to Senate passage.
House Republicans supportive of the Afghanistan effort voted against the measure, angered that Democrats were using the must-pass legislation to try to advance unrelated spending.
"The Democrat majority is treating this troop funding bill like a cash-cow for their election-year wish-list," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.
But top Democrats such as Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insisted on adding the domestic dollars, viewing the war funding bill as their last, best shot at resuscitating their faltering jobs agenda. The money was critical to winning support from Democrats frustrated over deepening Senate gridlock that has killed, among other ideas, $24 billion in aid to cash-starved states to help governors avoid tens of thousands of layoffs.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been agitating for the war money, requested in February, but the real deadline for Congress isn't until its August recess.
Still, the delays in approving the war funds will mean the Pentagon will have to employ burdensome bookkeeping maneuvers to maintain the war effort.