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War Spending Bill Gets Veto Threat

The White House threatened to veto the House’s war spending bill Thursday evening, as disputes over how to pay for aid for teachers — and whether to require a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan — erupted among Democrats.

The White House threatened a veto if the bill includes an $800 million cut to education reform programs. House Democrats want to use the funds to help pay for a $16 billion package of domestic spending that was added to the bill, including $10 billion to avert teacher layoffs. A vote on the bill was planned in the House for Thursday night.

“It would be short-sighted to weaken funding for these reforms just as they begin to show such promise,” the White House said of the education cuts in a statement of administration policy.

The statement also threatened a veto if restrictions are added that “would undermine [the president’s] ability as commander in chief to conduct military operations in Afghanistan.” The House is set to vote on two troop withdrawal amendments from anti-war Democrats.

The veto threat over the education funding irked House Democrats, who have privately complained that President Barack Obama failed to do enough in recent months to push a package of aid to states and other stimulus spending. A weak push for more stimulus spending from the White House ran into an anti-deficit insurgency from moderate Democrats, forcing the leadership to look for budget cuts to find money to stave off a wave of teacher layoffs by cash-strapped school districts.

A one-page document dated July 1 and prepared by the House Appropriations Committee makes the case for the $800 million in Education Department cuts, including $500 million from Obama’s Race to the Top program, which was established in last year’s stimulus bill. The one-pager described the Race to the Top cut as “a small reduction” to a “new and untested program.” It says that only two states have received grants so far under the program, which is designed to encourage states to develop innovative plans for overhauling their education systems.

However, the White House statement said more than three-dozen states have applied for the education funding.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a key Obama ally, said his chamber would consider different sources of funding if the House passes the bill and returns it to the Senate. “We’ll be looking at some alternatives,” he said, adding that Senate Democrats wanted to “help the teachers” without taking money away from the Race to the Top program. Senators have already departed for the July Fourth recess.

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