WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democratic leaders plan to add extended unemployment benefits and new education funding for veterans to President Bush's war funding bill while dropping lots of other party priorities.
Facing a veto threat, Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi don't want to try to add billions of dollars for roads, bridges and other ideas such as heating subsidies for the poor and increases in food stamp benefits.
Democratic aides say Pelosi's plan is tentative and had not been widely shopped to rank and file lawmakers. Pelosi said Thursday that she had yet to brief her colleagues.
The still-emerging plan is a sign that Democrats want to avoid loading up the war funding bill and losing a veto and public relations clash with the president, who insists lawmakers keep his bill free of add-ons.
Senate Democrats have not signed off on the plan, and leaders in that chamber are working to tamp down demand from those seeking to load up the measure with additional funding.
"I think it's more likely at this point to be smaller rather than larger," said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
Bush is certain to oppose the effort, which would add to the war spending legislation a $12.7 billion plan to give 13 more weeks of unemployment checks to people whose benefits have run out and 13 weeks beyond that in states with especially high unemployment rates. He's also likely to oppose the even more expensive plan for higher GI Bill benefits for veterans.
But the plan would make it more palatable for anti-war Democrats to provide money until the next president takes office.
Bush has promised to veto any bill that exceeds his pending $108 billion request to fund U.S. military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a tougher line than he took last spring, when he accepted about $17 billion in domestic funding as part of a $120 billion war funding measure.
Democrats are in fact planning on not only providing the $108 billion to fund the war through Sept. 30, the end of the 2008 budget year, but they're likely to add another $70 billion for next year so they need not vote on war funding again in the fall election season.
But the hard line from the White House has Democrats scaling back plans to use the must-pass bill as an engine to carry everything from a summer jobs programs to a Senate proposal for $10 billion for infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and new schools.
Republicans are eager for a battle with Democrats over add-ons to the war funding bill. Despite record low approval ratings and his status as a lame duck, Bush has to be rated as a clear favorite in any veto battle.
"If the president stands his ground on this he'll win," said House GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "And I believe he's prepared to stand his ground and we'll stand with him."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday that proposals that don't make it into the war spending bill may instead be carried by a second economic stimulus bill. That's where the unemployment benefit extension ultimately may wind up anyway, assuming Bush carries out his veto threat.
On Thursday, Hoyer said Democrats are considering adding a package of tax incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and biofuels. The Senate approved $6 billion in unrelated tax breaks for renewable energy producers earlier this month when it passed a package of tax breaks and other steps designed to help businesses and homeowners weather the housing crisis.
The tentative bill also would carry a plan to block new Bush administration regulations that would cut federal spending on Medicaid health care for the poor by $13 billion over the next five years. That bill passed the House on Wednesday by an overwhelming 349-62 vote despite a Bush veto threat.
Money to fight wildfires in the West — backed by many GOP allies of the president — also would make it into the measure, the aides said, as would additional help for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The wildfire funds could total about $400 million, while the state of Louisiana wants to ease current requirements that it put up 35 percent of the funds for a multibillion-dollar project to rebuild levees around New Orleans.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.