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The Democratic-controlled House is expected to give President Bush an end-of-session victory in his yearlong battle with anti-war lawmakers over Iraq by approving $70 billion for U.S. military operations there and in Afghanistan.
The vote Wednesday also would represent the final step in sealing a deal between Democrats and Bush over how much money to provide domestic agencies whose budgets are set each year by Congress. The Iraq funds have been bundled with an omnibus appropriations measure to create a massive $555 billion package that Bush has signaled he will sign.
Providing the war funds was a bitter pill for most Democrats, who on Monday sent the Senate a bill limited to $31 billion for U.S. operations in Afghanistan, which have much broader support than the unpopular mission in Iraq.
That effort was doomed in the face of a Bush veto promise and a filibuster by Senate Republicans. The Senate rewrote the measure Tuesday night by a bipartisan tally and dropped the combined Iraq and Afghanistan funding in the House’s lap as one of the last votes before most senators left Washington for the year.
“Even those of us who have disagreed on this war have always agreed on one thing: Troops in the field will not be left without the resources they need,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
Twenty-one Democrats and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who stood with Republicans at a post-vote news conference, voted with every Republican present except Gordon Smith of Oregon to approve the Iraq funding.
The vote represented reluctance in both parties to take money away from troops in the field. At the same time, anti-war Democrats’ positions had been weakened by the decline in violence in Iraq following the increased tempo of U.S.-led military operations there.
War spending aside, Bush’s GOP allies were divided over whether the omnibus appropriations bill represented a win for the party in a monthslong battle with Democrats over domestic agency budgets.
In rapid succession, the Senate cast two votes to approve the hybrid spending bill. By a 70-25 vote, the Senate approved the Iraq and Afghanistan war funds — without restrictions that Democrats had insisted on for weeks. Senators followed with a 76-17 vote to agree to a bundle of 11 annual appropriations bills funding domestic agencies and the foreign aid budget for the 2008 budget year that began Oct. 1.
The House vote Wednesday was to ready the entire package for Bush, though the vote was only on the Iraq portion of the measure. That vote would cap a parliamentary dance choreographed to ease the overall package through a chamber split between Democratic opponents of the Iraq war and GOP foes of the domestic spending portion of the bill.
The result on domestic spending created a divide between Republicans who thought it was a good deal, such as McConnell, and those who said it was too expensive and larded with pork-barrel spending.
“We’ve held the line, achieved what everyone thought was the unachievable,” McConnell said. “We are very proud of this bill.”
House Republicans and a few Senate GOP conservatives felt otherwise and were disappointed that Bush hadn’t taken a harder line in end-stage negotiations. The omnibus measure held to Bush’s “top line” for the one-third of the federal budget passed by Congress each year, but only through a combination of budget maneuvers that allowed Democrats to restore funding to budget accounts targeted by Bush and finance billions of dollars worth of lawmakers’ homestate projects.
“Congress refuses to rein in its wasteful spending or curb its corruption,” Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., said.
Conservatives estimated the measure contained at least $28 billion in domestic spending above Bush’s budget, funded by a combination of “emergency” spending, transfers from the defense budget, budget gimmicks and phantom savings.
While disappointed by ceding Iraq funding to Bush, Democrats hailed the pending appropriations bill for smoothing the rough edges of the president’s February budget plan, which sought below-inflation increases for most domestic programs and contained numerous cutbacks and program eliminations.
“The omnibus bill largely yields to the president’s top-line budget numbers, but it also addresses some of the bottom-line priorities of the American people,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “The Grinch tried to steal Christmas, but we didn’t let him get all of it.”
The White House, which maintained a hard line for months, has been far more forgiving in recent days, accepting $11 billion in “emergency” spending for veterans, drought relief, border security and firefighting accounts, among others. Other budget moves added billions more.
On the Net:
House Appropriations Committee: http://appropriations.house.gov