- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Senate Democrats yesterday forged ahead with a war-funding bill loaded with a pullout plan for Iraq, at least $30 billion in domestic spending and a provision opening citizenship to illegal-immigrant farmworkers — add-ons that promptly drew a White House veto threat.

The bill, which would supply the $165 billion requested by the administration to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into 2009, also included a delay of new rules restricting some Medicaid payments, a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits that would cost $15 billion over two years and an expansion of GI education benefits that would cost $51 billion over 10 years.

Democrats said the bill contained vital investments in America, but Republicans charged that it had become an albatross around the necks of the troops, whose funding the Pentagon said would begin to run out next month.

The administration objected to the Democrats’ war bill for busting Mr. Bush’s spending limit, for its pullout timetable that would “tie the hands of our military commanders,” and its encouragement for illegal border crossings with its grant of legal status to as many as 1.35 million migrant farmworkers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, introduced the domestic measures for consideration before opening debate on the war spending, an unusual move designed to overcome Republican opposition to the bill.

But a senior Republican aide said Mr. Reid peppered the legislation with “poison pills,” such as the measure to legalize illegal-alien farmworkers, to undermine the bill and pin the blame on Republicans for not passing the troop funding as the lawmakers head home for next week’s Memorial Day recess.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the claim showed that Republicans were in “fantasyland.”

The White House also opposed more unemployment-compensation payments that it said would discourage those who are out of work from seeking jobs and stalling Medicaid changes it said were designed to stop waste and fraud in the program. Although the president supported an enhanced GI Bill, the administration said the measure needed fine-tuning that would best be accomplished in stand-alone legislation.

“The president claims that by adding funding for America to this bill we are holding money for the troops hostage. What hogwash,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The West Virginia Democrat said the president eventually accepted added domestic spending in last year’s war bill. “This year, we once again take care of our troops,” he said. “But we also invest in America.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky signaled that Republicans could allow the bill to pass in order to expedite a veto and a rewrite of the legislation.

“Hopefully, at the end of the process after it’s vetoed, we’ll be able to get it skinnied down and more narrowly targeted toward what the original goal was, which was to fund our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

“What we wanted to underscore is that we’re in favor of getting the money to the troops,” Mr. McConnell said. “That’s what this bill was originally about. … It unfortunately now seems to be about a whole lot of other things. Our fundamental interest is getting the president’s request for the troops to him, approved and to him as rapidly as possible.”

The domestic provisions mirror legislation passed last week by the House.

The House version did not include money for the war because Republicans withheld support for the funding to protest the majority ramming the bill though the chamber and to highlight the Democrats’ opposition to funding the troops.

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