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War funds, GI aid hike pass

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $162-billion war spending plan Thursday, sending to President Bush legislation that will pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the next president takes office.

The plan, approved 92-6, includes a doubling of GI Bill college benefits for troops and veterans. It also provides a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and $2.7-billion in emergency flood relief for the Midwest.

The Senate, however, narrowly failed to approve a House-passed bill to cancel a scheduled cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

It also failed to resolve differences over home mortgage legislation and the administration's electronic surveillance program. Those matters will await lawmakers when they return from a 10-day July break.

The spending bill will bring to more than $650-billion the amount Congress has provided for the Iraq war since it started more than five years ago. For operations in Afghanistan, the total is nearly $200-billion, according to congressional officials.

The House approved the war funding measure last week, 268-155. The domestic add-ons were approved separately by a 416-12 vote. The White House has said it supports the combined measure, which technically allowed the measure to advance without senators having to vote specifically for the war funding, a distasteful matter for many Democrats.

As for Medicare, a 10.6 percent reduction in doctors' payments remains scheduled to take effect Tuesday. It was triggered by Medicare spending levels that exceeded established targets.

The Senate fell one vote short of the 60 needed to pass the bill under expedited rules. Nine Republicans joined Democrats in backing it. But most of the Senate's 49 Republicans voted against it, noting that the Bush administration has hinted at a possible veto. The insurance industry, in particular, opposed the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed his vote from yes to no in a procedural move to enable him to bring up the bill later.

He ridiculed Republicans who sided with Bush in opposing the bill.

"Who would be afraid of him?" Reid said as many senators looked on. "He's got a 29 percent approval rating."

Some of the roughly 600,000 doctors who treat Medicare patients have said they would be reluctant to take on new elderly and disabled patients if the reimbursement cut takes effect.

Avoiding the cuts in Medicare physician payments has become an annual event for Congress, but finding the money invariably requires trimming payments to other health care providers.

Senators were unable to resolve differences on the housing and surveillance legislation. A dispute over taxes continued to stall the mortgage-finance bill, which would allow the government to back $300-billion in cheaper loans for homeowners facing foreclosure.

War funds, GI aid hike pass 06/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:35pm]
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