WASHINGTON – A top White House official weighed in Thursday with renewed veto threats against rival House and Senate Iraq funding bills, saying add-ons for veterans and the unemployed were unacceptable.
Most significantly, Jim Nussle, director of the White House budget office, said that a plan by House Democrats to add unrelated legislation at a cost that could reach $51 billion over the next decade, would provoke a veto even though they are popular politically. The items he cited include extending unemployment benefits, at a cost of $16 billion over two years, and boosting education benefits under the GI Bill.
Nussle also issued a more predictable veto promise against a Senate bill that adds spending in excess of Bush's $108 billion request.
"To just pile them into the troop funding bill because the troop funding bill is necessary is a cynical process that the president has already been very clear about — the fact that he would veto," Nussle told the Associated Press.
Democrats devised the plan to either win a Bush signature or make him issue a politically difficult veto, but House leaders are having a hard time in implementing the plan, which relies on complicated parliamentary maneuvering.
A revolt by moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats over the plan to use the Iraq and Afghanistan funding bill to use deficit dollars to boost GI Bill education benefits forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to pull the war funding bill from the House schedule.
The Democratic rebels are the House's top supporters of "pay as you go" budget rules that require new benefit programs be financed with offsetting spending cuts or new taxes so as not to cause the budget deficit to spiral. The war funding bill is an emergency appropriation, but the veterans education funding is a new mandatory benefit program that's supposed to be subject to the budget rule.
"It's the principle involved of not putting a mandatory program of any kind on an emergency supplemental," said Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn.
Pelosi told reporters that she is confident the impasse with the rebel Democrats can be ironed out, but the delay threatens her goal of getting the war funding bill completed by Memorial Day.
Meanwhile the Senate Appropriations Committee called off a vote planned for Thursday on its version of the war funding bill, which exceeds Bush's demands by $9 billion.
The House bill carries $183.7 billion in spending for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a handful of domestic items such as military base construction funds. That includes $66 billion in 2009 funds requested by Bush, so it does not break through his overall cap.
But the addition of the GI Bill and a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for people whose benefits have run out would still prompt a veto, Nussle said.
"Judging from what the president has said and where the Congress appears to be heading toward right now, the answer is still the same — that the president would veto," Nussle told the Associated Press.