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Senate OKs war funding measure

House leaders dropped billions in education and jobless aid over deficit worries.

WASHINGTON - The Senate easily passed an almost $60 billion war-funding bill Thursday, but anxiety over out-of-control budget deficits led House leaders to drop tens of billions of dollars in spending from a separate catchall bill anchored by an extension of jobless benefits.

Confronted with a rebellion by Democratic moderates, House leaders planned to dump overboard $24 billion in aid to states and allow generous health-insurance subsidies for laid-off workers to expire. The changes were an effort to round up votes to extend unemployment benefits and renew more than 50 popular tax breaks that expired last year.

Help for doctors facing a big cut in Medicare reimbursements would also be dropped from the measure, aides and lobbyists said, and is unlikely to be resurrected by a vote Friday.

Democrats will miss their self-imposed deadline of passing the jobless-benefits measure before Memorial Day, even if the House passes the bill Friday. The Senate announced that it would not hold any more votes until after the holiday break ends June 7.

Senate Democrats had far better success in advancing the war-funding bill, which would pay for President Obama's 30,000-troop increase in Afghanistan.

Disaster aid

A dozen Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, joined Democrats in a 67-28 vote to pass the bill. Two antiwar Democrats, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, opposed it.

The war-funding bill also includes $5 billion to replenish disaster-aid accounts, and there's money for Haitian earthquake relief and aid to U.S. allies in the fight against terror.

The war-funding measure has been kept relatively clean of add-ons that could draw GOP opposition - to the frustration of liberal Democrats such as Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the top Senate sponsor of a $23 billion plan to help school districts avoid teacher layoffs. Facing sure defeat, Harkin declined to offer the plan to the war-funding bill.

Thousands of people are set to begin losing jobless benefits when an extension of unemployment insurance expires next week. A 65 percent subsidy for health-insurance benefits for the unemployed under the COBRA program also expires.

Cutting back

The benefits extensions are part of a sweeping package of unfinished business that lawmakers had hoped to complete before their Memorial Day recess to avoid the embarrassment of letting them lapse before going on vacation. Efforts to pass short-term extensions to buy time were doomed to fail since they would require the agreement of all 100 senators.

Democratic leaders cut the package of spending and tax cuts Wednesday by about $50 billion - to $143 billion - in an attempt to pick up votes. Thursday's moves could whack more than $50 billion more from the measure.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said that the Senate would not vote on the House tax and spending measure and announced the Senate would shortly adjourn for the Memorial Day recess.

In the House, Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D., Wis.) called off a vote on a far larger version of the war-funding bill that added the $23 billion to help school districts avoid teacher layoffs, along with $6 billion to make up for a funding shortfall in grants for low-income college students. An Obey spokesman blamed the busy floor schedule and uncertainty over the jobless-benefits bill.