Dems Use War Funding Bill for More GI Benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Democrats are using an approximately $100 billion war funding bill to give recently expanded GI Bill education benefits to the children of military service members who die while on active duty.

The provision, pressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, would give GI Bill benefits — which were greatly expanded last year — to each child of a service member killed in action or while on active duty, instead of a single family member as permitted under current rules.

Aides to both Pelosi and the House Appropriations Committee said the plan would be included in the war funding bill, despite not having passed either House or Senate during initial consideration of the legislation last month. It would cost an estimated $164 million over the next decade.

House-Senate negotiators are putting the finishing touches on the war spending measure in hopes of sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature next week.

The new GI Bill that passed last year essentially guarantees a full scholarship at any in-state public university, along with a monthly housing stipend, for people who serve in the military for at least three years. It was aimed at replicating the benefits awarded to veterans of World War II and more than doubled the value of the prior benefit.

The move also lobs a political hand grenade at GOP leaders who are organizing opposition to the war funding bill, which also would provide $5 billion to cover the risk of default on a new $100 billion line of credit for the International Monetary Fund.

With some anti-war Democrats remaining opposed to the bill — and with a handful of Democrats also opposed to the IMF funding — Democrats remain short of the votes needed to pass the emerging deal. Private talks fizzled Wednesday and Democrats scrapped plans to have an official House-Senate negotiating session on Thursday.

Republicans opposing the war funding measure over the IMF provision would invite attacks by Democratic political operatives poised to accuse them of opposing help for the children of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They’re playing politics," said Michael Steele, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

"No one has sacrificed for our country more than the military child who has lost a parent," said Edwards.

Meanwhile, House and Senate negotiators continued to wrangle over how strict to make language preventing detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison from being transferred to U.S. soil.

Neither the House nor the Senate bill provided $80 million sought by Obama for preparing the closure of Guantanamo by January.

The Senate has approved language that essentially would keep those prisoners from U.S. soil until legislation permitting that is approved. But the House bill would let the detainees be shipped to the U.S. for their trials or permanent detention after Obama issues a plan for safely closing Guantanamo.

The White House weighed in Tuesday night with a new request for $2 billion in additional flu-fighting money on top of the $2 billion already sought by the House. It was not clear whether the last-minute request would be granted. Unless cuts were found, the new flu-fighting money would bring the bill’s total to more than $100 billion.

Obama also sent lawmakers a request for $200 million in humanitarian aid for Pakistan, where 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes, largely because of the government’s campaign against insurgents. (Associated Press)

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