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Published: Thursday, 6/19/2008

House hammers out war funding deal

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - Democratic and GOP leaders in the House announced agreement yesterday on a long-overdue war funding bill they said President Bush would be willing to sign.

The agreement on the war funding bill, announced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio), also paves the way for a quick infusion of emergency flood relief for the Midwest, an extension of unemployment payments for the jobless, and a big boost in GI Bill college for veterans.

It would also provide about $165 billion to the Pentagon to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for about a year. That's enough time for Mr. Bush's successor to set Iraq policy.

"This is an agreement that has been worked out in a bipartisan way that I think is acceptable to both most Democrats and most Republicans and to the White House," Mr. Boehner said.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), said the agreement contains several priorities for Democrats in the Senate but stopped short of issuing a direct endorsement.

The agreement would require the Senate to drop most of the more than $10 billion it added last month for programs such as heating subsidies for the poor, wildfire fighting, road and bridge repair, and help for the Gulf Coast.

The House is slated to pass the measure today, but the Senate won't turn to it until next week, Mr. Manley said.

The agreement drops restrictions on Mr. Bush's ability to conduct the war and gives him almost all of the funding he sought well over a year ago for Iraq and Afghanistan. But he also backed away from veto threats he issued earlier over Democrats' insistence on using the Iraq funding bill to carry a generous boost in the GI Bill and a 13-week extension of unemployment payments for people whose benefits have run out.

Democrats dropped a provision to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks in states with particularly high unemployment rates.

Conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats are upset that the new GI Bill benefits, with costs tentatively estimated at $62 billion over the next decade, will be added to the deficit instead of being "paid for" as called for under House rules.

But the White House and Republicans insisted that House Democrats' offset - a one-half percentage point surcharge on wealthier taxpayers - was unacceptable.

The agreement came just a day after the Bush Administration urged Congress to provide $1.8 billion in immediate disaster aid for the Midwest and elsewhere. A dozen senators in both parties are pressing to add money for levee repair and help for displaced homeowners, among other pressing needs.

Democrats and governors across the country emerged the victors in a battle with the White House to block new Bush Administration rules designed to cut spending on Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled.



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