Senate Republicans have broken with President Bush to help Democrats add support for veterans and the unemployed to a bill paying for another year of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The 75-22 vote also added billions of dollars in other domestic funds such as heating subsidies for the poor and money for fighting wildfires to funding for military operations overseas.
Shortly afterward, the Senate voted 70-26 to approve $165 billion to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring, when Bush’s successor will set war policy. All told, the measure contains $212 billion over the coming two years, plus about $50 billion more through 2017 for veterans education benefits.
The vote on the domestic add-ons was a rebuke to Bush, who has promised to veto the measure if it contains the domestic measures. However, the president still has enough GOP support in the House to sustain a veto.
“Our troops deserve better than having essential war time resources held hostage to billions in unrelated spending,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. “Congress should pass a clean war funding bill when they return from Memorial Day recess.”
The House still has to act on the bill. Last week, it voted to reject money for continuing the war. It endorsed the help for veterans and the unemployed, but kept its version clean of most other domestic programs.
The huge tally in the Senate was driven by $15.6 billion over two years to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and more than $50 billion over the coming decade to provide sharply increased college aid for returning Iraq war veterans.
Also popular was a provision to block new Bush administration regulations that would cut federal spending on Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled by $13 billion over the next five years.
But dozens of add-ons favored by senators in both parties contributed to the unexpectedly sweeping tally that embarrassed the White House.
The vote came after Bush, speaking to troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, urged Congress to pass a war funding bill without congressional add-ons.
Some 25 Republicans abandoned Bush to endorse money for grants to local police departments, repairing roads damaged by natural disasters and boosting health research. Just 22 stood with him.
Domestic programs included money for Louisiana and Mississippi for projects including levees and coastal restoration.
There’s also $850 million for international food aid, $1.9 billion for military construction projects, and several billion dollars in various foreign aid programs — all requested by the administration.
In another tally, the Senate voted 63-34 to reject Democratic efforts to urge Bush to begin redeployment of combat troops and place other limits on his ability to conduct the war in Iraq.
Bush has been resolute in promising to veto any measure that exceeds his pending $178 billion request for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year. Such vows have involved the expansion in veterans college aid as well, though the GI Bill expansion is popular with many Republicans and would be a difficult veto to carry out.
“I hope President Bush watches closely what happened here today,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “And I hope he heeds the call of a bipartisan, veto-proof majority of Congress and the thousands of veterans who know we owe our veterans the support they deserve.”
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
May 22, 08