WASHINGTON -- In a take-it-or-leave-it gesture, the Senate voted Thursday night to reject more than $20 billion in domestic spending the House had tacked on to its $60 billion bill to fund President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
Instead, the Senate returned to the House a measure limited chiefly to war funding, foreign aid, medical care for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and replenishing almost empty disaster aid accounts.
The moves repel a long-shot bid by House Democrats earlier this month to resurrect their faltering jobs agenda with $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for Pell Grants to low-income college students, $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The House bill fell prey to a 46-51 tally that fell short of a simple majority, much less the 60 votes required to defeat a filibuster. The Senate is instead insisting on its almost $60 billion version of the measure, passed on a bipartisan vote in May.
Eleven Democrats and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted against the House measure. Not a single Republican supported it.
The Senate measure is likely to be grudgingly accepted by House Democrats next week despite opposition by many liberals to the war in Afghanistan, which many of them view as unwinnable.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been agitating for the money and warned lawmakers this week that unless the measure is enacted into law before Congress leaves for its August recess, the Pentagon could have to furlough thousands of employees.
The House bill also attracted a White House veto threat over $800 million in cuts to education programs to help pay for the additional domestic spending under a "pay-as-you-go" culture that the administration itself advocates.
The Senate measure blends about $30 billion for Obama's 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan with more than $5 billion to replenish disaster aid accounts, as well as funding for Haitian earthquake relief, and a downpayment on aid to flood-drenched Tennessee and Rhode Island.
The war funding would bring the amount of money appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan above $1 trillion.
The measure contains $13 billion in benefits for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, but does not provide more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits against the government, including $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion for mismanaging Indian trust funds.