Congress appears increasingly unlikely to meet its goal of approving President Bush's war funding request before Memorial Day as divisions deepened among Democrats and the White House issued a fresh veto threat.
With only two full weeks remaining before the Memorial Day recess, the measure has yet to pass either the House or the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pulled the bill from the schedule Wednesday night after conservative-to-moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats revolted over Democratic leaders' insistence on including in the war funding bill an unrelated provision to sharply increase education benefits for veterans under the GI Bill.
The new GI Bill _ designed to give Iraq war veterans enough help to finance a four-year stint at a public college _ would cost $51 billion over 10 years. It runs afoul of a rule designed to prevent new benefit programs from causing the deficit to spiral.
The Democratic rebels are the House's top supporters of "pay as you go" budget rules that require that new benefit programs be financed with offsetting spending cuts or new taxes so as not to cause the budget deficit to increase. 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.
Meanwhile, White House budget director Jim Nussle weighed in Thursday with renewed veto threats against rival House and Senate Iraq funding bills, saying the add-ons for veterans and an extension of unemployment benefits were unacceptable.
"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.
Pelosi told reporters 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.
The process for trying to pass the war funding bill involves complicated parliamentary maneuvering that is designed to allow anti-war Democrats to vote against the war funding but still ensure that it makes it through Congress and onto Bush's desk. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to negotiate a final bill because there's no House-Senate conference committee.
Also Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee postponed for a week a vote on its version of the war funding bill, which exceeds Bush's demands by $9 billion. Now, it appears the Senate won't complete floor debate on the measure until just before it recesses for the sacrosanct Memorial Day vacation, leaving no time for a final bill to be passed before the break.
The Pentagon says the delays would force the Pentagon on June 9 to warn civilian Pentagon employees of possible furloughs.
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.