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Funding the War, Dropping the Unemployed

June 4, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Updated Below)

Finally, an update on the war funding supplemental.

With President Bush threatening to veto the bill, it’s been clear that one of the three big groups with things at stake in it were going to have to be sacrificed – Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who are hoping for an expansion of education benefits, the unemployed, who are looking for a 13-week unemployment insurance extension, or wealthy Americans, who are facing an income surtax to pay for those spending increases. According to the Washington Post, the unemployed are going to be the ones to lose out.

>House Democrats are likely to drop a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance benefits from a major spending package that includes continued funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that would create a new education benefit for military veterans returning from the battlefields.
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>House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday that the unemployment insurance provision would “probably not” be part of the final package of war and domestic spending, which has become the most important legislative battle this spring between congressional Democrats and President Bush.

Tthis decision is all about the Blue Dogs, a group of about 50 conservative and moderate House Democrats who pride themselves on fiscal prudence:

>The unemployment insurance provision is one of several measures likely to be cut in an effort to win the support of the Blue Dogs and to increase the opposition to a veto that President Bush has threatened over several aspects of the bill.
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>Aides and lawmakers said there is general agreement on a final version of the bill that would give the Pentagon about $165 billion in war funds and the new education benefit.
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>But the veterans provision is the most costly domestic add-on to the bill, at about $52 billion over 10 years. Bush and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, oppose the measure, saying it is too costly and could encourage troops to leave military service at a time when personnel already are stretched thin.
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>When the House passed its first version of the bill in mid-May, Pelosi gave in to Blue Dogs’ demands and funded the new veterans education program with tax increases on the wealthy. But the tax increases did not pass the Senate.
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>House Democrats now hope that eliminating the unemployment insurance and other spending from the bill will mollify Blue Dog concerns on spending for the new “G.I. Bill.”

The unemployment insurance extension bill, H.R.5749, has been the hottest bill on OpenCongress over the last few months, with more than 11,000 comments from people fighting to get it passed. If you are hoping for Congress to extend unemployment insurance, you should join the discussion on that page and help in organizing to put the proposal back in the supplemental. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, “unemployment insurance is a particularly effective stimulus.”

UPDATE: In light of the new unemployment numbers released today showing the biggest one-month jump in unemployment in 22 years, Democrats may try again to include an extension of benefits in the supplemental.

CQ:

>House Democratic leaders have been planning to drop this provision, worried that it would lead to a veto of the war funding measure the chamber could not override. The new jobless figures, however, put the issue back in play. Labor groups are pushing for the benefit to be included in the war bill.
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>House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., vowed that Congress “will send the president legislation to provide urgently needed assistance to millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.”
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>But she conspicuously did not promise to do so in the supplemental spending bill.
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>Even before Friday’s unemployment report, Senate Democratic leaders had reiterated their desire to include the extended benefits in the war funding bill. And some House Democrats, including Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel , D-N.Y., have also questioned why Democrats shouldn’t challenge Bush on the issue.

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