Lawmakers pledge supplemental war bill will pass soon
Stars and Stripes May 10, 2008
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in Congress have pledged to push through a war supplemental budget by Memorial Day. What else they’ll pass with it is still up in the air.
This week, House leaders delayed plans to debate a $184 billion war supplemental measure because of objections raised by both Republicans and Democrats. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she’s confident the issues can be worked out quickly.
“Next week we will come to the floor with a bill that has the full consensus of the Democrats, and hopefully can attract a large number of Republicans as well,” she said Thursday.
The supplemental bill includes nearly $100 billion in funds for this fiscal year, money Department of Defense officials say they need by mid-June to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without disrupting pay for servicemembers.
But in addition to the funds, Pelosi said the chamber will consider an amendment requiring the U.S. remove all troops from Iraq in the next 18 months, language that has failed to gain support in the Senate on several previous budget bills.
And House leaders hope to attach to the war funds unrelated legislation overhauling veterans’ education benefits, a measure gaining popularity in Congress but opposed by the White House and the Pentagon.
The new education bill, originally sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., would guarantee full tuition for all in-state universities and a $1,000 monthly living stipend for all veterans who served a full military tour since 2001.
Current benefits cover less than $1,100 a month in tuition, and allot no money for living expenses.
While defense officials contend that the plan would be too costly and does not allow transferring of tuition money to military dependents — a legislative proposal they’ve been backing — veterans groups have rallied around the Webb bill in recent weeks. Pelosi called the measure an important opportunity to help those who serve.
“When I travel in theater, troops always ask me, ‘What’s going to happen when I go home?’” she said. “This will send a strong message that we are going to welcome them home, that we’re going to say ‘thank you’ to our vets.”
But some Democrats raised concerns about the cost of that measure — estimated at more than $50 billion over the next decade — being included in the war funding bill without cuts in other areas of the budget. Other Democrats raised objections to any money for further combat operations because of their objection to involvement in Iraq, and Pelosi acknowledged she intends to vote against the funding because of her stance on the U.S. presence there.
The Senate Appropriations Committee released details of its own supplemental budget this week, including $103 billion for fiscal 2008 war operations and the Webb bill as well. But officials there also postponed debate on that measure until next week.
Meanwhile, President Bush this month vowed to veto any supplemental budget which contains items unrelated to military operations overseas, setting up a showdown if Congress does adopt the tuition increases.