Senate OKs war supplemental bill with veterans' benefits

The Senate approved Thursday a two-part supplemental spending package that included $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as increased veterans' benefits and an extension of unemployment insurance and other domestic spending.

The first amendment, including the veterans' education and other domestic spending, was approved by a 75-22 margin.

The second amendment covered the $165 billion of war funds; it passed, 70-26.

The vote on the war funding came after the Senate failed to win enough support for the war funding and restrictions on the war funding, such as a mandate that U.S. forces be redeployed.

The vote also came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to strip several immigration related proposals from the bill in an effort avoid a veto. President Bush has long said that he would veto the supplemental if it includes ancillary domestic spending, such as an extension of unemployment insurance, which is expected to cost $11 billion over 10 years.

Other domestic spending items in the package include $10.4 billion for aid to Gulf Coast states affected by 2005's Hurricane Katrina and $1 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The measure would delay implementation of new rules for Medicaid proposed by the White House.

Democratic presidential contenders Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., were called back for the vote by Senate Democratic leaders. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican nominee, did not come off the campaign trail for the vote. Bush has said he supports providing increased education benefits to veterans but thinks it should be done as a separate piece of legislation.

The provision would essentially provide a four-year scholarship to any public university to veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001. The provision is estimated to cost $50 billion over 10 years.

After the vote, the amendment's sponsor Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., urged Bush not to veto the package. Webb said he had not had any discussions the issue with the White House. Reid said he expects provision to remain in the final package that is sent to Bush for his signature. He said that the so-called GI bill provision was the main reason that the domestic portion received so many votes and dismissed suggestions that the other spending items enticed more votes.

He said he's secure that "the GI bill of rights is going to be part of what we send to the president," having spoken with House Appropriations COmmittee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The House is expected to consider the package after the Memorial Day recess.

Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle later issued a statement. "The President has made clear that he will veto a bill that restricts our commanders in the field and exceeds his responsible spending levels," said Nussle. "The Senate reaffirmed today that attempts to tie the hands of our military commanders lack bipartisan support and over the past two weeks Congress has also demonstrated that we have the votes to sustain a veto on tens of billions of dollars in unrelated spending attached to this troop funding bill."

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