Congressional Democrats and the White House have agreed on a $162 billion budget to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan well into the first year of the next president’s term in office. It will allow the winner enough time to consider how — or if — he wants to fight those wars.
The bill was enough of a compromise, an expensive one, that both sides will plausibly claim victory. As Bush insisted, the bill contains no tax increases and some cuts in domestic spending and there are no timetables for withdrawing from Iraq.
The Democrats got an expensive new veterans’ education benefit and 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits, both of which President Bush had threatened to veto. And the Democrats also succeeded in delaying regulations proposed by the Bush administration that would have cut certain Medicaid spending.
The bill is must-pass legislation and while Congress has been mulling it for over a year, it could still be delayed at the 11th hour by lawmakers trying to add new spending. One addition that will pass is $2 billion in emergency flood relief for the Midwest.
The gaudiest feature of the bill is an updating of the GI bill that more than doubles veterans’ educational benefits. The Blue Dog Democrats, a caucus of fiscal conservatives, were unsuccessful in trying to offset the cost of the program with spending cuts elsewhere and tax increase of half a percent on single taxpayers earning over $500,000 and over $1 million for couples.
The bill provides up to $90,000 to cover tuition and housing at any in-state public university for those who have served honorably in the military for at least three years. Bush and the Democrats agreed on an additional provision that would allow veterans to transfer their benefits to spouses or children. The cost is estimated at $62 billion over the next 10 years.
This is a wonderful reward for military service so perhaps the question seems tiresome and mean-spirited but it has to be asked: How are we going to pay for all this?