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Senate reaches deal on Iraq war funding

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Senate plans to vote Thursday on providing $165 billion to fund Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, under a deal that likely would doom billions of dollars in domestic programs.

A plan announced Wednesday night by Senate leaders would pay for the wars until a new administration take over.

But it would likely kill money for 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for the jobless, heating subsidies, fighting Western wildfires and aid to rural schools, among many programs backed by senators in both parties despite a promised veto from President Bush.

In exchange, GOP leaders would allow a vote on a big expansion of education benefits for veterans under the GI Bill. It's favored to pass, but the White House has promised to veto it.

The plan by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would also provide for passage of Bush's funding request without restrictions on his conduct of the Iraq war.

The deal, if passed on Thursday, would send the war funding bill to the House in hopes it would soon reach President Bush's desk.

The plan would involve a series of votes on Thursday. Among the items that would be dropped is a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for people whose benefits have run out.

Bush has been resolute in promising to veto any measure that exceeds his pending $178 billion request for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year. Such vows have involved the expansion in veterans college aid as well, though the GI Bill expansion is popular with many Republicans and would be a difficult veto to actually carry out.

Sixty votes — equal to what's needed to overcome filibusters — would be required to pass any part of the plan.

Under the proposal, the Senate would first vote — and reject — a bill pending before the Senate that's replete with domestic programs added by both Democrats and Republicans.

Then the Senate would turn to the GI Bill expansion, which is aimed at guaranteeing returning Iraq war veterans the equivalent of a four-year education at a public university. It would cost $52 billion over the next decade and is expected to pass.

Next would come a vote on $165 billion worth of Pentagon funding to carry the war into next year for the new administration to take over.

Republicans are expected to block a Democratic plan to urge Bush to begin redeployment of combat troops and other strings on his ability to conduct the war in Iraq. After that debate, the Senate would vote — and pass — the war funding measure. The war funding measure would move to the House in tandem with the education proposal.

The House would be unlikely to act until Congress returns from a one-week recess.