WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders and White House officials reached a compromise on a controversial war funding measure this week, agreeing on $162 billion for overseas operations, with expanded veterans education benefits in the final draft.
House lawmakers approved the legislation Thursday night, and the Senate is expected to take up the measure next week. President Bush on Friday urged that chamber to move quickly on the bill, calling it a "responsible" measure that will help troops and their families.
Thursday’s was the third vote on the funding by the House this year, but the first time it approved a plan the White House had not vowed to veto. The supplemental funding is expected to help pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until mid-2009.
The combat funds passed by a 268 to 155 vote, with a number of anti-war Democrats pushing against continued funding for operations in Iraq.
Those included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said during a debate Thursday that she would vote against the funding because "we owe our troops more than sending them into war on a false premise, without the equipment and training they need, without a plan for success, without a strategy to leave."
An amendment containing the veterans college benefits and other domestic spending faced little opposition, passing by a 416-to-12 vote.
The amendment will extend unemployment compensation by 13 weeks and $22 billion for programs such as aid for the Midwest floods, levee restoration funds for New Orleans and money for ongoing projects related to the 2005 base closure decisions.
The new GI Bill, expected to cost nearly $63 billion over the next 11 years, had been a major point of contention for months.
The plan, introduced by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., would give full four-year college tuition at any state university to veterans who have served at least three years on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
Both the House and Senate have already approved versions of the plan, but the Pentagon and White House preferred legislation that would have offered less tuition money but more options to transfer unused education benefits to troops’ spouses and children.
The plan approved Tuesday would keep the full four-year tuition guarantee, but also allow troops with at least six years service to transfer their tuition benefits to a spouse. Those with at least 10 years could transfer them to a dependent child under 26 years old.
On Thursday, Webb called the compromise welcome news.
"It has been almost seven years since Sept. 11, and the operational tempo of the people who have been serving has gone up," he said. "They deserve a wartime GI Bill and they’re going to get it."
The supplemental bill also includes language prohibiting defense officials from using the money to establish permanent bases in Iraq and requiring the Iraqi government match dollar-for-dollar any reconstruction funds made available by the State Department.