House to vote on war funds agreement

A long-delayed Iraq war funding bill sailed through the House on Thursday, along with historic increases in college aid for returning troops, help for the unemployed and $2.7 billion in aid for Midwestern flood victims.

Republicans provided the winning margin in a 268-155 vote to provide $162 billion to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan well into next year.

The White House issued a statement supporting the legislation, which heads to the Senate for a vote next week.

The bill would also bring to more than $650 billion the amount provided by Congress for the war in Iraq since it started five years ago. Nearly $200 billion in additional funding has gone to operations in Afghanistan, according to congressional analysts.

It also would give Bush's successor several months to set Iraq policy after taking office in January – and spares lawmakers the need to cast more war funding votes closer to Election Day.

The new GI Bill essentially would guarantee 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 is aimed at replicating the benefits awarded veterans of World War II and more than doubles the value of the benefit – from $40,000 today to $90,000.

The White House tried hard to kill the effort to extend unemployment benefits as part of the war funding bill. Just two weeks ago, it appeared the administration would probably prevail. But after the unemployment rate jumped a half-percentage point to a nationwide average of 5.5 percent, House Democrats engineered a veto-proof tally in support of the 13-week extension.

Democrats dropped a plan to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks in states with particularly high unemployment rates. They also agreed to require people to have worked for 20 weeks in order to be eligible for the extended payments.