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Pentagon pushes for swift passage of war funding

  • Story Highlights
  • House Republicans blocked passage of war funding bill Thursday
  • Bill provides $163 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Educational benefits for veterans passed but Bush has vowed to veto it
  • Senate expected to restore funding to bill next week
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon called for swift passage of a bill providing additional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after Republicans blocked its passage in the House.

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The $163 billion for the war funding bill would pay for combat operations through the spring of 2009.

Democrats suffered a surprising setback Thursday when the $163 billion war funding bill was defeated by a vote of 141-149, with 132, mostly Republicans, voting "present" -- a way of registering dissatisfaction with the bill without having to go on record as having opposed funding the troops.

The money would fund the wars for the remainder of the year and into the spring of 2009.

"We have no comment on the tactical tug-of-war the Congress is now engaged in other than to reiterate the department's strong desire to see lawmakers pass our war funding as quickly and as cleanly as possible," Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said after the vote.

The Republicans complained that Democrats short-circuited the legislative process by taking the bill straight to the floor without an opportunity for them to offer changes or debate the merits.

Despite the parliamentary maneuvers, the Defense Department is likely to receive the funds in the end. The Senate is expected to restore the funding to the bill when it takes up the measure next week.

A measure that included a nonbinding plan for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by December 2009 passed 224-196, mostly along party lines.

A measure that would give veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan full four-year scholarships, dubbed a new G.I. Bill, also passed by a vote of 266-166, short of the two-thirds needed to override the promised veto by President Bush.

The added benefits would cost $52 billion over 10 years and would be paid by a 0.5 percent surtax on people making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.

Calling the new tax a "patriot premium," Democrats argued that it was time for wealthy Americans to share in the sacrifice that troops are making in Iraq.

The Pentagon said it would prefer that the withdrawal plan and the education benefits not be considered with the war funding.

"We prefer the bill focus exclusively on funding our troops and the war they are fighting so President Bush can sign it and there be no interruption in troop pay or military operations," Morrell said.

A Democratic aide said the House Democratic leadership had decided not to contest any Republican effort to derail the bill, leaving the GOP members of Congress to explain their positions.

"They either voted to delay funding for the troops or voted against the war," the aide said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, said the Republican tactic meant they were panicked.

"What they did is what happens when panic sets in after they lose a Mississippi House seat," he said, referring to the Democratic victory Tuesday night in a special election for what had been a staunchly Republican congressional district.

"We won," Obey said, noting that other parts of the bill passed.

Florida Republican Ginny Brown-Waite charged that the Democrats were playing politics with the troops and that the new tax would only damage the sluggish economy. But in the end, 32 Republicans voted with Democrats on the measure.

The House also passed a 13-week extension on unemployment benefits and a nonbinding proposal that calls for the Pentagon to begin redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq within 30 days, with the goal of getting all U.S. troops out of combat operations by the end of 2009.

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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