Senators say their goal is to stimulate the U.S. economy, but the Senate's economic recovery package spends up to $198 million in lump-sum payments to aging Filipino veterans of World War II -- two-thirds of whom don't live in the U.S. and are unlikely to be pumping much money into the economy.
The money, long-sought by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, would go to about 15,000 living veterans who served in World War II as a part of U.S.-led forces and who were promised postwar benefits, including U.S. citizenship.
Those promises were revoked by Congress soon after the war, and Filipino veterans have spent the years since pressing for compensation. Mr. Inouye said the payments are long overdue, and are urgent.
"This episode is a blight upon the character of the United States, and it must be cleansed," he said in a statement, calling the revoked promises "a dark chapter" in U.S. history. "It should be noted that as you read this, many of the Filipinos who would qualify are on their deathbeds. Today, the average age of these men is about 90."
But critics said the issue has no business in the recovery bill.
"Like so many other items in the so-called stimulus legislation, I find it hard to figure out how sending money overseas to the Philippines will help stimulate the American economy," said Sen. Richard M. Burr, North Carolina Republican, who led a fight last year to block disbursement of the money.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he sees the money as legitimate but that it "just doesn't have anything to do with stimulating the U.S. economy."
Money was set aside for the Filipino veterans last year, but was never spent because Mr. Burr and other Republicans prevented the House and Senate from agreeing to a formula for doling the funds out.
The Senate recovery bill, which will be debated on the chamber's floor next week, authorizes $198 million for the Filipino veterans and sets forth how the money can be spent. The House bill, which passed that chamber Wednesday, didn't include the provision.
Republicans have attacked both the House and Senate bills for many of the spending items they include, ranging from hundreds of millions of dollars to fund sexually transmitted disease prevention to boosting Amtrak.
Republicans were united in voting against the House bill, and were joined by 11 Democrats.
But in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid still held out hope for Republican support, noting that President Obama had come to Capitol Hill to lobby congressional Republicans personally for their support. But Mr. Reid, whose party holds a 58-41 majority in the Senate, made clear he was determined to pass the stimulus bill quickly, regardless of Republican support.
"If we don't [get Republican votes], it won't be our fault for not trying," the Nevada Democrat said.
He dismissed Republican complaints that some of the spending in the bill will do little to create new jobs or will take too long to have an impact.
"It's easy to sit back and nitpick," he said. "Is everything in it perfect? Of course not. But it's a good package."
Republicans, though, said they have not had enough input in the measure, which they said is skewed too much toward spending.
"There is a growing and grim recognition within our conference that there's very little likelihood of a significant change in this colossal spending bill," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. "And so we need to resist this package with everything that we have."
Filipino veterans said the money is deserved and belongs in the recovery package because time is critical.
Franco Arcebal, a Filipino World War II veteran and vice president of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, said his group estimates that 3,000 veterans have died since its last count in 2007, including the veteran who used to lobby Capitol Hill for the spending, who died in December, and six deaths in Mr. Arcebal's home region of Los Angeles last month.
"Every time a person dies, it will reduce the expenditure of the U.S. government. We don't want the U.S. government to wait for all of us to die before they give us this," said the 85-year-old Mr. Arcebal. "From 1946 up to now we were still clamoring for justice and return of these veterans' benefits that were taken away from us."
Mr. Arcebal said about 250,000 Filipinos served under U.S. command in World War II.
He said they hope Mr. Inouye will persuade the House to act.
Part of the delay last year was those among the Filipino veterans who are U.S. citizens didn't want the $15,000 payments to cut into their Social Security income, which the House version required. Non-U.S. citizens would have received $9,000.
Troops who were already serving in the Philippine Scouts, the new Philippine Scouts, the Guerrilla Services and the Philippine Commonwealth Army were put under U.S. military control by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. The Philippines were under U.S. control at the time, but the U.S. granted the island chain independence after World War II.
Some veterans began receiving benefits before Congress' 1946 law revoking the offer of benefits and citizenship, and those benefits have continued. But some Filipino veterans' service was deemed not to meet the definition of "active service" and were denied the benefits; those are the veterans Mr. Inouye seeks to aid.
Aside from the overseas location of many of the veterans, the lump-sum payment also could be contentious.
The Obama administration, speaking about the tangential issue of tax cuts, argues that lump-sum tax rebates are not as effective in stimulating the economy as a cut that pays out in smaller amounts in paychecks.
• Kara Rowland and David R. Sands contributed to this report.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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