Squabble over $10 billion for teachers delays Afghanistan war money
A Democratic House leader wants Congress to spend $10 billion to save teacher jobs. The White House has threatened a veto. Meanwhile, funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are in limbo.
So, what do public school teachers and US forces in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have in common? Answer: a defense supplemental spending bill that is having an unusually tough time getting through Congress this summer.Skip to next paragraph
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If there’s one point on which Democrats and Republicans typically agree, it’s that funding for US forces in wartime is must-pass legislation, no question. But this year’s war funding bill is tied up, possibly for weeks, in a tangle of disputes between Democrats and Republicans, complicated by a late-breaking rift between House Democrats, the Obama administration, and one of the most loyal segments of the Democratic base – public school teachers.
Any one of these disputes would take careful negotiation, but together they add up to a tough balancing act for a Congress that is also facing midterm elections.
There’s broad, bipartisan support for the $58.8 billion the Senate approved on May 27 to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($37.1 billion), Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange ($13.4 billion), Haiti earthquake relief ($2.9 billion), the Gulf oil spill ($162 million), and other disaster relief.
At issue is the $22 billion in additional spending that the House added to the Senate bill on July 1, including $10 billion to hire teachers or prevent widespread teacher layoffs this fall, $5 billion to cover an expected shortfall in Pell grants for college students, and $700 million for border security.
Obey vs. the White House
Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, initially proposed $23 billion for teachers. But he had to pare it back to $10 billion after protests from fiscal conservatives in the House Democratic caucus.
Then the White House balked at Mr. Obey’s plans to cover most of the cost by rescinding funds from President Obama’s signature $4 billion “Race to the Top” initiative, which gives Education Secretary Arne Duncan broad discretion to reward school programs deemed progressive. The White House threatened to veto the bill unless the House found another way to pay for teacher aid.
“With this bill from the Senate, we will be spending in this fiscal year $167 billion on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obey said in floor debate on the bill on July 1. “It is obvious to any but the most obtuse that that expenditure is killing our ability to finance a recovery of our own economy.”
Despite White House opposition, the additional spending passed the House 239 to 182. Fifteen Democrats joined all but three Republicans in opposing the measure.