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Supplemental Deal Being Eyed

Reid Looks to Reach Compromise President Can Live With

House and Senate Democrats signaled Tuesday that they are prepared to compromise with President Bush on unemployment benefits and other issues as part of a $250 billion war supplemental to get it passed before the Fourth of July recess.

House Democrats delayed action for at least for another day to seek a compromise with Republicans and the White House over unemployment benefits, according to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

Murtha said the House had agreed to an administration proposal on GI bill education benefits that would include the ability to transfer the benefits to family members but require five years of service for full benefits.

“The GI will get almost identical benefits, plus the transferability,” Murtha said. “I don’t like the five years, but what the hell, if you can get that without a fight.”

Democrats had earlier signaled that they would pass a bill that has no chance either in the Senate or with the president because it would have included a tax increase to appease budget hawks and war restrictions to appease liberals.

That had put the onus on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to craft a deal that can get signed. Reid had pressed the House to keep unemployment benefits in the supplemental.

The White House warned Congress that Bush’s veto threats are serious, both on the unemployment package and on the billions in domestic spending that the Senate has sought to add. Bush also signaled that he would send Congress a request in the next few days for flood relief funding.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Reid offered to work with Republicans to find a compromise on unemployment benefits.

“We will be happy to work with the minority if they feel there are some changes that should be made,” said Reid, who offered to include restrictions on the amount of time a person must work before being eligible for unemployment benefits.

Reid told reporters that he wanted to present the president with a bill he can sign, even as he hinted at including domestic spending provisions the president has said he would oppose.

“We’re not out picking fights,” Reid said. “The supplemental appropriation bill is a bill that we do every year to take care of emergencies that developed during the past year in this country, and there have been a lot of them. We’re going to try to take care of those in this bill.”

Republicans excoriated House Democrats for appearing to give up on writing a bill of their own.

“The Democrats’ failure to pass a troop funding bill that will actually get our armed forces the money they need is nothing less than a disgrace,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Stephen McMillin, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Bush would send a request within the coming week representing the administration’s best estimate of how much the government would need to help the Midwest recover from flooding.

“This is a significant unexpected disaster, which is beyond what we usually budget for,” McMillin said. “We can make a pretty good educated guess.”

McMillin said the administration doesn’t want to wait until a full damage assessment is concluded — and then seek a whole new supplemental.

“We’d like to catch this legislative vehicle,” he said.

McMillin said House Republicans had a veto-sustaining minority last week on the stand-alone unemployment bill.

“He wouldn’t ask folks to walk that plank if he wasn’t serious,” McMillin said of the president.

But McMillin said there was room to negotiate, noting that Bush is open to an unemployment package that targets hard-hit states and includes significant work requirements.

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