WASHINGTON – The Democratic-led Congress finally appears ready to give U.S. President George W. Bush his request for $162 billion in long-overdue funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A deal worked out Wednesday between House Democrats and Republicans and the White House, if it passes as expected, would put to rest Bush's long-standing battles with the Democrats over war funding.
At the same time, Democrats would win help for the unemployed and a remarkably generous increase in GI Bill education benefits for military service members.
The House will vote on the compromise Thursday.
House passage of the bill also would pave the way for a quick infusion of emergency flood relief for the Midwest, though more is expected to be needed to deal with the terrible losses in Iowa, Illinois and other states.
The latest installment of war funding would bring to well over $600 billion the amount of money Congress has provided for the unpopular war in Iraq. It also would give Bush's successor several months to set Iraq policy after taking office in January — and spares lawmakers the need to cast more war-related votes closer to Election Day.
"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," House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, withheld an outright endorsement but through a spokesman praised several key elements of the deal.
White House Budget Director Jim Nussle signaled Bush would sign the measure.
"It meets the needs of the troops; it doesn't tie the hands of commanders in the field," Nussle said. He also said the spending levels in the bill stayed within Bush's demands. The latter claim was a stretch since the measure carries new GI Bill benefits, as well as additional unemployment payments that Bush has threatened to veto.
But the agreement drops restrictions on 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.
The White House — and Capitol Hill Republicans — had signaled greater flexibility in recent weeks after Democrats orchestrated impressive votes to more than double GI Bill college benefits and give a 13-week extension of unemployment payments for people whose benefits have run out.
The new GI Bill essentially would essentially guarantee a full scholarship at any in-state public university, along with a monthly housing stipend, for people who serve in the military for at least three years. It is aimed at replicating the benefits awarded veterans of World War II and more than doubles the value of the benefit — from $40,000 today to $90,000.