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Looks like somebody's got some politickin' to do:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pulled the bill from the schedule Wednesday night after conservative-to-moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats revolted over Democratic leaders' insistence on including in the war funding bill an unrelated provision to sharply increase education benefits for veterans under the GI Bill.More:
The new GI Bill — designed to give Iraq war veterans enough help to finance a four-year stint at a public college — would cost $51 billion over 10 years. It runs afoul of a rule designed to prevent new benefit programs from causing the deficit to spiral.
The Democratic rebels are the House's top supporters of "pay as you go" budget rules that require that new benefit programs be financed with offsetting spending cuts or new taxes so as not to cause the budget deficit to increase. The war funding bill is an emergency appropriation, but the veterans education funding is a new mandatory benefit program that's supposed to be subject to the budget rule.
"It's the principle involved of not putting a mandatory program of any kind on an emergency supplemental," said Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn.
Meanwhile, White House budget director Jim Nussle weighed in Thursday with renewed veto threats against rival House and Senate Iraq funding bills, saying the add-ons for veterans and an extension of unemployment benefits were unacceptable.
"To just pile them into the troop funding bill because the troop funding bill is necessary is a cynical process that the president has already been very clear about — the fact that he would veto," Nussle told The Associated Press.
"It does not honor veterans to borrow Chinese yuan to pay for these benefits," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a leader of the 47-member House Blue Dog Coalition, which opposes deficit spending.
Budget experts outside Congress were even more incensed. David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general who has said the nation faces $53 trillion in unfunded federal liabilities over the coming century, called it "morally reprehensible." Criticism also came from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Concord Coalition deficit watchdog group.
"No matter how laudable the intended purpose and no matter how important the targeted population is, the absolute last thing we ought to be doing is expanding entitlement benefits," Walker said.
Veterans' groups reacted warily to the moderate Democrats' intervention. "I think their bark is a lot worse than their bite," said Patrick Campbell, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "I don't think any one of these people want to be on the record for voting against the GI bill."
If the bill becomes law, it would be the third time that House Democrats have violated the rule they passed last year to pay for new spending or tax cuts. They did not pay for the two-year, $168 billion economic-stimulus package passed in February or a $50 billion tax cut last December.
Negotiations over the next few days will focus on how to pay for the education benefit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday she wants to keep it in the bill. "We are going to say 'thank you' to our vets. 'Now you can go to college if you wish,' " she said.
The war-funding bill needs to be passed by next month, or the Defense Department will begin sending furlough notices to civilian employees.
Update: GI Wish I Could go to College