Friday, May 9, 2008

Nussle: ‘Adding New GI Bill to Iraq Funding Bill Will Provoke Bush Veto’

Election-year politics has taken center stage on the Hill in D.C. as the House prepares to do battle with the White House over the Iraq funding bill. In the battle between the legislative and executive branches, the Democrats have switched tactics.

Last year Democratic leaders tried to add time lines for troop withdrawals to several versions of proposed funding bills. This year, however, Democrats have chosen to play the new GI bill card, gambling that President George W. Bush’s veto of a popular, bipartisan bill would be politically damaging.

Bush, however, has nothing to lose politically, so he renewed his veto threat against any bill that comes to his desk equipped with any add-on legislation that would require additional appropriations.

"To just pile them into the troop funding bill because the troop funding bill is necessary is a cynical process that the president has already been very clear about — the fact that he would veto," White House budget office manager Jim Nussle told the Associated Press.

Nussle, a former Iowa congressman and 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate, told the AP that the House Democrats’ plan to add unrelated legislation extending unemployment benefits, at a cost of $16 billion over two years, and boosting education benefits under the GI Bill, at a cost that could reach $51 billion over the next decade, would provoke a veto even though they are popular politically.

In his call for fiscal restraint, Bush received help from across the aisle, when some members of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats threatened to revolt. The Blue Dogs are strong advocates of the “pay as you go” budget rules that require new benefit programs be financed with offsetting spending cuts or new taxes so as not to cause the budget deficit to spiral. They argue that the war funding bill is an emergency appropriation, but the veterans education funding is a new mandatory benefit program that's supposed to be subject to the budget rule.

"It's the principle involved of not putting a mandatory program of any kind on an emergency supplemental," Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn. told the AP.

However, not all the Blue Dogs shared this view or threatened to revolt, including Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, a 20-year Army veteran, who was one of the 277 House members co-sponsoring the new GI Bill legislation.

Boswell’s chief of staff, Susan McAvoy, told the Iowa Independent that the Blue Dog opposition was not an official position endorsed by the coalition. "He informed his colleagues where he stood prior to any debate on the bill,” McAvoy said. “Rep. Boswell is very supportive of veterans and would not do anything that would keep the new GI Bill from moving forward in the House.”

Nonetheless, the threatened revolt by Blue Dog members forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to pull the war funding bill from the House schedule. She told reporters that she is confident the impasse with the rebel Democrats can be ironed out, but the delay threatens her goal of getting the war funding bill completed by Memorial Day.

Even if Pelosi does iron matters out with the Blue Dogs, there’s still the matter of Bush’s veto threat looming at the finish line. "Judging from what the president has said and where the Congress appears to be heading toward right now, the answer is still the same — that the president would veto," Nussle told the Associated Press.

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