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Senate passes war-aid bill

Billions were approved despite a veto threat. That version and the House's must be reconciled.

WASHINGTON - In a vote that illustrated President Bush's diminished standing, the Senate yesterday ignored his veto threat and added tens of billions of dollars for veterans and the unemployed to his Iraq war spending bill.

A majority of Republicans broke ranks with Bush on a veto-proof 75-22 vote while adding more than $10 billion for various domestic programs, including heating subsidies for the poor, wildfire fighting, roads and bridge repair, and health research.

All Philadelphia-area senators voted yes on the bill. Among the presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.) voted yes; Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) did not vote.

Democrats crowed about their victory. But the developments meant more confusion about when the measure might actually pass and what the final version will contain.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "Our troops deserve better than having essential wartime resources held hostage to billions in unrelated spending."

Senators voted 70-26 to approve $165 billion to fulfill Bush's request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring, when his successor will set war policy. Overall, the measure contains $212 billion over two years - $28 billion more than Bush sought - plus about $50 billion more through 2017 for veterans' education benefits.

Bush has promised to veto the Iraq spending if it exceeds his request. He has enough GOP support in the House to sustain a veto.

But the spectacle of 25 Senate Republicans abandoning the White House and voting to extend jobless benefits by 13 weeks and boost the GI bill to provide veterans enough money to pay for a four-year education at a public institution made plain that Bush's influence is waning.

"What influence?" said a triumphant Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).

Reid had been skeptical of adding dozens of items favored by the Appropriations Committee to Bush's war request. But the panel's plan contained so many smaller items favored by senators in both parties - including money for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, NASA and additional food- and drug-safety inspectors - that even GOP conservatives such as Larry Craig and Mike Crapo of Idaho rebuffed the White House.

The Senate action sent the bill back to the House, which last week endorsed the help for veterans and the unemployed but kept its version clean of most other domestic programs. The House also included an income-tax surcharge of half a percentage point on wealthier people to pay for the expanded GI bill.

Because of differences between the bills, it will take weeks for Congress to pass a final compromise, which Bush is expected to veto.