House struggles over jobs bill as Senate OKs troop funding

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House Democrats struggled Thursday to round up support for a scaled-back jobs package, while the Senate approved funding for 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.

The push to deal with urgent issues before the weeklong Memorial Day recess came near the end of a testy period in Congress, with Democratic leaders facing opposition not just from Republicans but from some in their own party.

In particular, the Democrats’ majority is increasingly divided between those who will stomach more spending and more conservative members who are concerned about record deficits.

The division is part ideology and part pragmatic politics.

“The phenomenon or the situation that I see is that members who are from low-unemployment areas are very concerned about the deficit,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco). “Members who are from high-unemployment areas are very concerned about the jobs.”

Hoping to secure votes for the jobs bill, Democratic leaders first tried scaling back their initial $200-billion version to a $143-billion measure that would extend unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers through Nov. 30.

The bill called for offsetting part of the cost by tightening tax provisions for hedge fund managers and overseas corporations. That lowered the net cost to $84 billion.

But as Republicans continue pounding anti-deficit themes, conservative House Democrats appeared less willing to approve a spending package of that size.

That suggests that Senate Democratic leaders may not be able to muster all 59 of their votes for such legislation, let alone find enough crossover Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.

Pelosi and her lieutenants huddled for much of the afternoon, trying to devise a path forward on an even smaller bill.

By evening, House Democratic leaders were looking at two measures that were about half the size of the original package for possible consideration Friday.

But the Senate recessed Thursday without resolving the issue. Without action, unemployment benefits for many will expire Wednesday.

“We need to cut spending now, not sink more money into these failed ‘stimulus’ programs,” said Rep. John A. Boehner (R- Ohio), the House minority leader.

The Senate did approve a $58.8-billion war spending bill Thursday night that provides for the additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan that are above President Obama’s budget for 2010. That bill still must be approved by the House.

Democrats defeated several Republican-sponsored amendments to beef up security along the border with Mexico.

Obama announced this week that he was seeking $500 million from Congress to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed sending 6,000 troops.

McCain’s amendment was defeated, 51 to 46, though he won support from 12 Democrats, including California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“The borders are broken,” McCain said. “We can secure our borders. But we need manpower, surveillance and fences.”

The Senate bill includes $68 million in emergency funds for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including $29 million for inspections of offshore oil rigs and $13 million for economic hardships on the fishing industry.

The bill also provides $913,000 for emergency earthquake aid to Haiti.

Noticeably absent from the Senate’s war spending bill was $23 million the administration had sought to prevent teacher layoffs at school districts across the country.

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has insisted the education funds be included. The $84-billion war spending bill his committee will take up next month includes money to prevent the layoffs.

But the window for more government spending appears to be closing, as both parties face voters agitated about the federal deficit, even as many economists say government intervention helped shore up the economy during the downturn.

Janet Hook of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.