WASHINGTON — The Senate easily passed an almost $60 billion war funding bill Thursday, but anxiety over out-of-control budget deficits led House leaders to drop tens of billions of dollars in spending from a separate catchall bill anchored by an extension of jobless benefits.
Confronted with a rebellion by Democratic moderates, House leaders planned to dump overboard $24 billion in aid to states and allow generous health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers to expire. The changes were an effort to round up votes to extend unemployment benefits and renew more than 50 popular tax breaks that expired last year.
Help for doctors facing a big cut in Medicare reimbursements would also be dropped from the measure, aides and lobbyists said, and is unlikely to be resurrected by a vote on Friday.
Democrats will miss their self-imposed deadline of passing the jobless benefits measure before Memorial Day, even if the House passes the bill Friday. The Senate announced Thursday that it will not hold any more votes until senators return from their holiday break June 7.
The steps by House leaders could reduce the deficit impact of the bill to as little as $30 billion or so in hopes of winning over moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats unhappy about adding to the deficit as the national debt is on the verge of topping $13 trillion. A version circulated last week would have added $134 billion to the deficit.
One Blue Dog, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he would probably vote for a slimmed down version of the bill.
“The bigness issue and the deficit issue has been addressed,” Cuellar said.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats had far better success in advancing the war funding bill, which would pay for President Barack Obama‘s 30,000 troop increase in Afghanistan.
A dozen Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, joined Democrats in a 67-28 vote to pass the bill. Two anti-war Democrats, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, opposed it.
Thousands of people are set to begin losing jobless benefits when an extension of unemployment insurance expires next week. A 65 percent subsidy for health insurance benefits for the unemployed under the COBRA program also expires.
The benefits extensions are part of a sweeping package of unfinished business that lawmakers had hope to complete before their Memorial Day recess to avoid the embarrassment of letting them lapse before going on vacation. Efforts to pass short-term extensions to buy time were doomed to fail since they would require the agreement of all 100 senators.