Congressional Democrats are heading toward another confrontation with President Bush and this time they’re hoping they might finally win one. Don’t bet on it.
Bush sent to Congress a request for $108 billion to continue fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for this current year. He said he would veto any bill that exceeded his spending request, contained a timetable for pulling out of Iraq or contained new domestic spending programs.
House Democrats will vote later this week, likely Thursday, on a bill that contains all three of those veto-provoking elements.
It calls for $178 billion in spending, although some Republicans say the final tab is more like $200 billion. It does contain additional spending to continue fighting the wars in the first few months of 2009, a provision Bush might sit still for.
But it calls for $16 billion in extended unemployment benefits for workers who have exhausted theirs and it also calls for doubling of college aid for veterans. The Democrats are betting that Bush will shy away from being seen to stiff both veterans and the unemployed.
The bill also calls for a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops by December 2009. This would give antiwar Democrats a chance to go on the record, but the Senate Republicans are likely to block the timetable before it gets to Bush.
The bill contains some agreed-upon spending — $5 billion for levees in New Orleans and $770 million in foreign food aid for 2009 — that Bush had sought but also $650 million for this year that he did not.
All this spending is basically borrowed money; the cost goes straight to the deficit. It’s instructive how fast the Democrats fell into the openhanded ways of the Republicans they replaced. The bill was largely written by the leadership outside the normal committee process. And such heralded checks on spending like pay-as-you-go, requiring any new spending to be offset by spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere in the budget, were casually waived.
This should be the last war-funding bill of Bush’s presidency. It promises to be a real fight.