Senate Republicans yesterday ignored President Bush´s threat to veto a war-spending package he considers bloated with domestic spending, joining Democrats to pass a historic expansion of GI college aid and $165 billion to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring.
Republicans did stand firmly with their party´s leader when blocking a troop-withdrawal timetable and other war policy restrictions, including a prohibition on permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and a time limit on combat deployments.
The series of votes came a week after a Republican political stunt allowed the Democratic-led House to pass its package without funding for troops, leaving Congress far from replenishing the Pentagon´s coffers that it says will begin running out next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was joined by a bipartisan group of the chamber's war veterans - including the measure's lead sponsors, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - in praising the passage of the new GI bill, which will pay college tuition and a monthly housing allowance for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There is no politics in this," said Mr. Webb, the lead sponsor of the new GI bill. "This is taking care of the people who take care of us."
The GI bill, estimated to cost $51.6 billion over 10 years, passed 75 to 22, with support from 48 Democrats, 25 Republicans and two independents. Republicans cast all the "no" votes.
Mr. Bush has expressed support for the new veterans´ education benefits but says it needs fine-tuning that would best be accomplished in stand-alone legislation.
The Bush administration also opposed the bill´s inclusion of extending unemployment-compensation payments, which it said would discourage those who are out of work from seeking jobs, and a provision that would delay a new restriction on Medicaid payments it said were designed to stop waste and fraud in the program.
A provision opposed by the administration that would have opened citizenship to illegal-immigrant farmworkers was stripped from the legislation before the vote.
Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said it is "disappointing and irresponsible" of the Democrat-led Congress to leave for a Memorial Day break without finishing the war bill, which must be reconciled with a House version that contains a pullout plan.
"The president has made clear that he will veto a bill that restricts our commanders in the field and exceeds his responsible spending levels," Mr. Nussle said. "There's a long way to go in this process, and now that Congress' cynical strategy has failed, it is time for the Congress to send a bill to the president that he can sign."
Domestic spending atop the $165 billion for war funding into 2009 includes $10 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief, $1.2 billion for global food aid, $1.2 billion for scientific research, $495 million for law-enforcement grants and $400 million for rural schools.
The war funds passed in a 70 to 26 vote, with support from 46 Republicans, 23 Democrats and one independent. It was opposed by 24 Democrats, one Republican and one independent.
The troop-withdrawal timetable and other war policy restrictions, including a prohibition on permanent U.S. bases in Iraq and a time limit on combat deployments, died in a 63 to 34 vote, with 41 Republicans, 20 Democrats and two independents opposing the measure. It garnered support from 28 Democrats and six Republicans.
The Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York both voted for the domestic spending and against the war policy restrictions. Mrs. Clinton voted against the war funds while Mr. Obama did not vote on the measure.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona missed the votes because he was attending a fundraiser in California.