- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

A long-stalled bill to help pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is back at the feet of House Democrats, who must decide whether to accept the Senate’s leaner proposal or keep pushing for billions of dollars in extra domestic spending — a politically risky move that could further delay resources to U.S. troops.

The Senate on Thursday passed an almost $60 billion measure to supplement the nation’s war efforts but stripped almost $23 billion for schools, summer jobs programs, college aid and minority farmers, among other programs added by the House, which passed its version earlier this summer.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he supports in principle the House Democrats’ wish list. But with Senate Republicans unwilling to support a war funding bill loaded with so many House extras, the Nevada Democrat said, he had no choice but to cut the proposals from the upper chamber’s version.

“Unfortunately, Republicans blocked those measures as they continue to push their job-killing agenda and harm our economic recovery,” Mr. Reid said. “We will work with our colleagues in the House to make sure that the important provisions that Republicans obstructed are addressed as soon as possible.”

House Democratic leaders haven’t decided what their next move will be on the “war supplemental” bill, although a full vote in the chamber is expected this week, senior House Democratic aides said Friday.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, promised last week that the House will pass the measure before Congress adjourns for its August recess but didn’t hint on what the bill would look like.

But reintroducing a war spending bill filled with non-emergency, nonmilitary provisions almost certainly would be blocked again in the Senate. With the congressional recess approaching — and with midterm elections less than four months away — Democrats are desperate to avoid any perception that they aren’t sensitive to the needs of U.S. troops.

House Democrats also are under pressure from the Pentagon, which has been clamoring for Congress to quickly pass the spending bill. The Defense Department has warned that thousands of Pentagon employees could be furloughed unless the measure is passed before the recess.

Axed in the Senate measure were provisions that House Democrats said were intended to spur economic and job growth, including $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for the Pell Grant program for low-income college students, $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senators also removed funding to settle black farmers’ discrimination claims against the government.

“I’m afraid we’re losing sight of the purpose of these war supplemental bills,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “These bills are not for forward-funding domestic programs, they are not for funding projects that won’t pass elsewhere.”

Mr. McConnell said it was the Senate’s duty to “send it back to the House and reject any delaying tactic or additional matters that can wait for future consideration in this session.”

The Senate measure contains funding for medical care for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange and replenishing almost empty disaster aid accounts, as well as money for Haitian earthquake relief and flood-damaged areas of Tennessee and Rhode Island.

The Senate version, if passed, would bring the total amount of money appropriated for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to more than $1 trillion.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.