WASHINGTON – Democrats controlling the House plan to pass legislation this week funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year.
The plan would give anti-war lawmakers a vote on nonbinding language setting the goal of withdrawing most combat troops by December 2009, said a senior House Democratic aide, though Senate Republicans have the votes to filibuster the move.
The $178 billion — plus measure will also carry legislation costing $16 billion over two years to extend by six months unemployment insurance coverage for jobless people whose benefits have run out. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan would begin to receive a big boost in college aid.
Barring any unexpected developments, it would be the last war funding bill passed during President George W. Bush's tenure in office. It would bring the amount approved by Congress since Sept. 11, 2001, to fight terrorism and conduct the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to about $875 billion.
Bush has vowed to veto any funding bill exceeding his request, but Democrats are calculating that he will be hard-pressed to kill the measure because it offers help for returning soldiers and the long-term unemployed. Or if he does veto the bill, Republicans would face politically risky votes to sustain his veto.
Democrats have left out billions of dollars in requests from rank-and-file lawmakers for roads, bridges and other party priorities, such as heating subsidies for the poor, a summer jobs program and increases in food stamp benefits.
"They're trying to keep this from becoming a Christmas tree," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a California Democrat.
The measure grants Bush's request for $770 million in additional overseas food aid for the 2009 budget, but it adds $650 million for the 2008 budget year ending Sept. 30, almost tripling the amount Bush had sought.
It also provides money to address problems with the Census and combat summer wildfires. It provides more than $5 billion as requested by Bush, to build flood protection levees around New Orleans.
The legislation is slated to advance in an unusual process in which it is broken into three separate pieces for votes in the House and Senate: war funding, anti-war policy provisions and domestic funding.
The idea is to allow anti-war Democrats to vote against the war funding — which Republicans will provide the votes to pass — while still ensuring the money goes out to support troops overseas. Democrats get to vote for restrictions on sending ill-trained troops to Iraq and banning practices they say are torture, but the provisions would never make it through the Senate to face a veto.
The popular veterans education provision would cost $720 million over 2008-09 and would then theoretically expire. That minimizes the apparent cost, but the program is expected to easily be renewed, with future years costing far more. Details are lacking, but the legislation is based on a plan by Sen. James Webb, a Virginia Democrat, costing up to $4 billion a year to roughly double college aid for veterans to about $12,000 per year.
The unemployment insurance provisions would give 13 more weeks of unemployment checks to people whose benefits have run out and 13 weeks beyond that in states with especially high unemployment rates.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hopes to schedule a vote this week. She first must sell the plan to anti-war Democrats at a closed-door meeting Tuesday.