With the July Fourth recess looming, House Democrats are hoping to pass a war funding bill this week that also includes $15 billion in domestic spending, including $10 billion to cover the salaries of about 140,000 public school employees.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned Congress that he needs the $33 billion of the measure that is intended for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Without the money, he warned, the Pentagon would be unable to fund critical defense operations.
A nearly $60 billion bill funding the two wars and other international priorities passed the Senate last month.
But House Democrats have so far been unwilling to take up the Senate version because they want to attach domestic spending that otherwise would have no chance of winning approval from their deficit-wary caucus. In addition to the funds for teacher pay, about $5 billion is included for the Pell Grant program for college students as well as $700 million for border security.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., released a a bill that pairs the war money with the domestic funds. According to a Democratic leadership aide, the House could vote quickly on the measure, but it will have to find a way to lure enough of its liberal Democrats to vote "yes" because many Republicans are expected to vote "present" to register their opposition to the non-war spending.
"We are going to try to give our members a menu of options to consider as part of the bill, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who is the assistant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told The Washington Examiner. "There may be amendments with respect to the war spending on certain conditions."
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is a leader of the 80-plus liberal faction, said she backs an amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., that would set a firm timetable for getting the troops out of Afghanistan. She is also writing her own amendment to cut off additional funding for the war.
"It's a war without end," Lee told The Examiner. "We need to begin to end this. We need to understand that the more money we spend, the longer the timeframe, the more troops we put in, that it's time to have a timeline and an exit strategy."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the bill has not been finalized but acknowledged that the party's left flank will have the chance to address troop withdrawal.
"My expectation is that there will be alternatives offered to people," Hoyer said.
Hoyer said he believes there is enough support for the bill to pass this week, but some believe that without Republican support, the growing anti-war faction will block it.
"I'm leaning 'no,' " said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. "I just think we've gone too far. It's been eight years. We won the war. It's time to get out of there."