Bush signs emergency war funding measure

Times Staff Writer

President Bush signed an emergency spending measure Monday that funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year, along with an expansion of veterans benefits and an extension of jobless aid.

The measure:h.r.02642:, enacted at a time when the troubled economy tops many voters’ concerns, provides up to 13 extra weeks of unemployment assistance for people who have lost their jobs and have exhausted their typical 26 weeks of state benefits.

The additional payments are sure to be welcome in California, where the unemployment rate rose to 6.8% in May, its highest level in nearly five years. Nationally, the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5% in May, the largest one-month increase since 1986.

Bush expressed relief that the measure provided $162 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without setting troop-withdrawal timelines, which he has opposed.


“This bill shows the American people that even in an election year, Republicans and Democrats can come together to stand behind our troops and their families,” he said.

Congress approved the measure after Democrats dropped efforts to impose timelines for troop withdrawals from Iraq in the face of a White House veto threat. They did, however, win concessions on their priorities to modernize the World War II-era GI Bill, which provides educational opportunities for millions of veterans, and to extend unemployment benefits.

The measure will fund military operations into mid-2009, after the next president takes office, saving lawmakers from casting what for some could be a politically troublesome vote on war funding close to election day. It includes a new requirement -- sought by lawmakers from both parties -- that the Iraqi government match U.S. spending for reconstruction.

It also includes $2.7 billion for disaster relief in the flood-ravaged Midwest and elsewhere, and $465 million for a Bush initiative to aid Mexico and other Central American nations in fighting drug trafficking.


The extension of unemployment benefits, at a projected cost of $8.2 billion over 11 years, was a priority of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who noted in a recent letter to congressional leaders that California has been hard hit by the housing crisis. He also called the aid “one of the most effective ways to stimulate a distressed economy.”

California’s unemployment rate last month was the fifth-highest in the nation, behind Michigan, Rhode Island, Alaska and Mississippi.

The state Employment Development Department said it would be contacting the estimated 1.6 million people who could be eligible for extended benefits.

The department is encouraging people with a valid claim that began on or after May 7, 2006, to apply for the extended unemployment benefits at its website beginning Sunday. The average weekly benefit in California is about $307.

The extension of unemployment benefits was less than the Democrats’ original proposal. It called for extending payments for a minimum of 13 weeks in all states; states with high unemployment rates, such as California, would have gotten 26 additional weeks of aid. But that idea ran into White House resistance.

Under the new GI Bill, service members who enlisted after the Sept. 11 attacks and served three years on active duty will be entitled to tuition payments up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public university, plus stipends for books and housing.

They can transfer these educational benefits to their spouses or dependents.

Pentagon officials had been warning for months that they faced drastic shortfalls if the war funding was not passed by midyear. In June, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England sent a memo to all Pentagon agencies asking that plans for a possible shutdown be sent to him by the end of the month.


To meet soldiers’ payrolls, the Pentagon asked Congress to move billions of dollars into Army budgets from Navy and Air Force accounts. Through the middle of June, Congress had allowed $5.7 billion to be moved into the Army’s operations account; the enactment of the new legislation will prevent any further such transfers for the time being.


Times staff writer Peter Spiegel contributed to this report.