WASHINGTON - President Bush's request to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until his successor can take office hit a rocky patch yesterday in the Senate.
Democratic leaders were forced to jettison a provision to award work permits for immigrant farm labor and seasonal workers just hours after beginning debate on legislation to add domestic programs to Bush's war request.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) kept companion war-funding legislation waiting in the wings to try to gain leverage over the White House and Senate Republicans. But it was not at all clear his strategy would work.
At the same time, the White House renewed its veto threat, reminding everyone involved that the trouble-filled path to Senate passage is but one more step in an even more hard-to-figure battle.
Reid brought up the domestic add-ons in an unusual move designed to win their adoption before turning to legislation that would provide $165 billion to conduct military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring.
The bill would add more than $28 billion to Bush's budget request for this year and next, with almost $50 billion more after those two years for a big expansion of veterans benefits under the GI Bill from 2010-18.
Reid faces enormous procedural headaches in getting the war-funding bill, and its add-ons, passed this week. Democrats have divided the war bill into two components: non-war add-ons and Iraq funding-policy restrictions. Reid has signaled he wants the non-war extras to get a vote before the war funding itself, but it's a high-wire strategy. "It is going to be extremely difficult for us to get from where we are today to completing this legislation," Reid said.
Republicans seemed to suggest they would let the add-ons advance to a Bush veto rather than filibustering them this week.
"Once the veto is sustained, we'll have a chance to figure out exactly how to actually enact this legislation and get the funding to the troops," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
The new GI Bill and Democratic priorities such as extending unemployment benefits are among the big-ticket add-ons; both have drawn veto threats. But the Senate's rules left some non-spending add-ons vulnerable, by allowing any senator to knock them out on a procedural move.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) objected to the immigrant farm-labor provision, which was added last week by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Larry Craig (R., Idaho). It would let almost 1.4 million immigrant farm workers stay in the country for up to five years to ease a worker shortage that has left some crops rotting in the fields.
Menendez's move also killed a measure by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.) and Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) to extend an expired program to let seasonal workers return to the country using H-2B visas.
A spokesman said Menendez acted because the two immigration provisions were tilted in favor of businesses while doing too little to help immigrant workers.
The House voted
unanimously yesterday to provide financial and tax relief to military personnel. It acted as the Senate debated
a major expansion in college education benefits for veterans.
In the run-up
to Memorial Day, the House was taking up more than a dozen bills to either help or honor veterans and active-duty personnel, highlighted by the $2 billion tax package.
The bill lets active-duty
reservists make penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans and makes permanent a law that includes combat pay as earned income for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
It provides a tax credit
of up to $4,000 for small businesses that keep paying their National Guard and Reserve employees
who are on active duty and makes thousands of veterans eligible for low-interest homeowner loans.