WASHINGTON – After a take-it-or-leave-it vote by the Senate, House Democrats face little choice but to drop billions in aid for schools, college students and others that they had hoped could ride on legislation paying for President Barack Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
The Senate rejected the House measure, passed earlier this month, by a 46-51 vote that fell short of a majority, much less the 60 votes required to defeat a filibuster.
Instead, the Senate on Thursday stripped out the $20 billion in House add-ons and returned to the House an almost $60 billion measure passed by a bipartisan vote in May. The Senate measure is limited chiefly to war funding, foreign aid, medical care for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and replenishing almost empty disaster aid accounts.
It would bring the amount of money appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan above $1 trillion.
Eleven Senate Democrats and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted against the House version of the bill. Not a single Republican supported it.
The moves repel a long-shot bid by House Democrats earlier this month to resurrect their faltering jobs agenda with $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs, $5 billion for Pell Grants to low-income college students, $1 billion for a summer jobs program and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Senate measure is likely to be grudgingly accepted by House Democrats next week despite opposition from liberals who oppose the war in Afghanistan, which many of them view as unwinnable.
A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wouldn't comment on whether the House will simply approve the Senate measure and send it on to Obama for his signature.
But the pressure to do so is intense, especially after Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned lawmakers this week that unless the measure is enacted into law before Congress leaves for its August recess, the Pentagon could have to furlough thousands of employees.
The House bill also attracted a White House veto threat over $800 million in cuts to education programs to help pay for the additional domestic spending under a "pay-as-you-go" culture that the administration itself advocates.
The Senate measure blends about $30 billion for Obama's 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan with more than $5 billion to replenish disaster aid accounts, as well as funding for Haitian earthquake relief, and a down payment on aid to flood-drenched Tennessee and Rhode Island.
The measure contains $13 billion in benefits for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, but does not provide more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits against the government, including $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion for mismanaging Indian trust funds.
The measure contains $1.1 billion for mine-resistant vehicles, $657 million for military bases in Afghanistan and $6.2 billion in foreign aid for Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Haiti.
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