The U.S. Senate approved a $60 billion measure to fund the troop buildup in Afghanistan after refusing to include $10 billion in state aid sought by the House to prevent an estimated 140,000 teacher layoffs.
The House plan, which the Obama administration had threatened to veto, was blocked late yesterday on a 46-51 procedural vote, with 60 needed. The Senate then voted unanimously to pass its version of the war bill and send it to the House for approval.
“The funding included by our colleagues in the House of Representatives for education jobs is critical,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat. Still, he said “we cannot delay further the funds necessary to ensure that our servicemen and women have everything they need to do their jobs.”
The Obama administration had threatened to veto the House version because it would partly finance the aid to states by rescinding $800 million provided last year to the Department of Education, including money for a grant program that is one of its top educational priorities.
The Senate dropped a House provision that would have restricted brand-name drug companies from paying generic-drug makers to delay putting lower-priced pharmaceuticals on the market. That proposal was intended to cut drug costs in government health-care programs, freeing up money for aid to states.
The Senate also cut $5 billion for Pell college tuition grants, $1 billion to promote summer jobs for teens and $700 million to improve border security.
Lawmakers are under pressure to complete the legislation before their August recess. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he may have to furlough some staff if he doesn’t receive the money by mid-August.
About half of the measure passed by the Senate would pay for the troop surge in Afghanistan. Another $13.4 billion would pay for an expansion of the number of ailments presumed to be tied to use of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Another $5 billion would go to disaster relief.
Republicans opposed the added aid to states.
“We’re losing sight of the purpose of these war supplemental bills,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “They are not for funding projects that won’t pass elsewhere.”