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Salmon relief passes

By James Monteleone

Triplicate Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – Conceding to the president, Congress passed a third version of a war funding bill Thursday that retained disaster relief funding for fishermen and assistance for rural schools.

Bush said he would sign the bill into law, despite the domestic spending previously written off as special interest "pork" because the new legislation dropped deadlines for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

The bill provides $60.4 million in aid to fishermen hurt financially by last year's abbreviated salmon season and $425 million to support rural schools in counties like Del Norte, where the large amount of federal land precludes the county from funding public education with property taxes alone.

The legislation also included $500 million to better fight wildfires.

"The Pacific salmon disaster and our seriously under-funded rural schools are exactly the type of emergencies these supplemental bills were meant to fund," Thompson said in a statement.

The bill got through the House on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to allow separate votes for domestic spending and war spending amendments.

That rule allowed lawmakers to show support for homegrown programs while also voting against increased war spending without appearing hypocritical.

Rep. Mike Thompson did just that. He supported the domestic spending amendment, but was able to vote "no" on the war funding, which was approved by a majority in the House.

"Because the Iraq war issue is so complicated and has so many different constituencies, it appears (Democratic leaders) created a very cumbersome and complicated vote on the House floor to give all their members cover," said Brian Darling, director of government relations for the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation think tank.

While both amendments that make up the bill were successful, the domestic funding passed with a veto-proof vote of 348 to 43-68 nods more than the war funding amendment received. Relief funding for fishermen and rural schools could not have passed the House, independent of the war spending measure, Darling said.

Many Democrats, like Thompson, opposed the war funding amendment saying without troop withdrawal timelines, the bill gave the president open financing for the war.

The benchmarks included for the Iraqi government, Democrats said, are too weak to make any impact on policy.

"Without a timeline, the Iraqi government won't be motivated to meetthe benchmarks," Thompson said in a statement.

Democratic leaders moved forward on the war spending bill despite the lack of timetables to ensure troops in Iraq didn't face shortages on the ground. The concession handed the president a legislative victory even though it forced him to compromise on the domestic spending included on the bill.

Darling said Bush had threatened at one point to veto the domestic "pork" packed into the bill, but "Democrats correctly presumed that having ‘pork' in the bill would not harm the chances of this bill being signed."


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