GOP balks at push for war-spending bill

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House Republican leaders say they will oppose the Democrats’ latest push for a war-spending bill, complaining that the measure Democrats expect to introduce Thursday is similar to one the chamber considered last month and contains too much non-war-related spending.

“When it comes to the safety of our men and women in harm’s way, repeating the same cynical action is more than just insanity; it demonstrates a complete lack of judgment and responsibility,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

The bill, which is expected to well exceed $200 billion, would pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring. It also would provide money for a new college aid program for veterans, an expansion of the unemployment insurance benefits program, money for Midwestern flood relief and billions of dollars for other domestic matters.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said a series of ongoing talks on the measure among House, Senate and White House representatives has significantly slowed the writing of the bill.

“We’d like to see a signable bill passed through the House and Senate and sent to the president and signed,” he said.

One of the major sticking points is the Democrats’ insistence on including a provision to extend unemployment benefits for up to 13 weeks. Democrats say the provision is needed because of rising unemployment rates, which increased to 5.5 percent in May - up from 5 percent the previous month.

To help pay for the spending provisions, the measure may include a 0.5 percent surtax that would apply to individuals earning more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million. It would take an extra $500 from $1 million earners, but Republicans said the majority of those affected would be people with small businesses.

Democrats also are adamant that the package include Sen. Jim Webb’s “21st Century G.I. Bill,” which would provide educational benefits to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans similar to those given to veterans returning from World War II. The Virginia Democrat’s proposal would provide full tuition, including money for fees, books and housing, based on the most-expensive public college in a veteran’s state of residence.

Absent from the measure is a provision setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, a mandate that had been included in the House’s previous version of the bill.

A similar measure easily passed the Senate in May after Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to include a troop withdrawal timetable and other war policy restrictions, such as a prohibition on permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and a time limit on combat deployments.

The House, which also passed an earlier version of the war-funding measure in May, may trim some of the money slated for domestic purposes that was included in the Senate proposal, such as a low-income energy assistance program and “emergency” highway projects.

It’s uncertain whether the bill has enough Republican support to override a threatened veto by the White House, which prefers a “clean” war-spending bill without most of the extra spending proposals.

Mr. Hoyer admitted on Wednesday the measure could be bounced again between the House and Senate before a final version is sent to President Bush.

“That may be the case,” he said.

Mr. Boehner said Democratic leaders are irresponsible for reintroducing for a second time a “nearly identical bill they know has no chance of passing the Senate - let alone being signed into law.”

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