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Republicans block Democrats' war funding bill

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  • NEW: Democrats say GOP "panicked" after Mississippi election loss
  • Bill to provide $163 billion for wars failed 141-149, with 132 voting "present"
  • Funds meant to fund wars in Iraq, Afghanistan into spring 2009
  • Measure increasing education benefits to Iraq, Afghanistan veterans passes
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From Deirdre Walsh
CNN Congressional Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked a $163 billion war funding bill Thursday, dealing a surprising defeat to Democrats who had expected to pass the measure.

House Republicans blocked a $163 billion war funding bill from passing Thursday.

The vote was 141-149, with 132 voting "present" -- a way of registering dissatisfaction with the bill without having to go on record as having opposed funding the troops. House Democrats are calling the Republican move a political stunt.

The Republicans complained that Democrats short-circuited the legislative process by taking the bill straight to the floor without an opportunity for them to offer changes or debate the merits.

The funding is expected to be restored when the Senate takes up the measure next week.

A measure that included a nonbinding plan for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by December 2009 passed 224-196, mostly along party lines.

A measure that would give veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan full four-year scholarships, dubbed a new G.I. Bill, also passed by a vote of 266-166, short of the two-thirds needed to override the promised veto by President Bush.

The added benefits would cost $52 billion over 10 years and would be paid for by a 0.5 percent surtax on individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.

Calling the new tax a "patriot premium," Democrats argued that it was time for wealthy Americans to share in the sacrifice that troops are making in Iraq.

A Democratic aide said the House Democratic leadership had decided not to contest any Republican effort to derail the bill, leaving the GOP members of Congress to explain their positions.

"They either voted to delay funding for the troops or voted against the war," the aide said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, said the Republican tactic meant they were panicked.

"What they did is what happens when panic sets in after they lose a Mississippi House seat," he said, referring to the Democratic victory Tuesday night in a special election for what had been a staunchly Republican congressional district.

"We won," Obey said, noting that other parts of the bill passed.

Florida Republican Ginny Brown-Waite charged that the Democrats were playing politics with the troops and that the new tax would only damage the sluggish economy. But in the end, 32 Republicans voted with Democrats on the measure, passing it 256-166 -- short of a veto-proof majority, however.

The House also passed a 13-week extension on unemployment benefits and a nonbinding proposal that calls for the Pentagon to begin redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq within 30 days, with the goal of getting all U.S. troops out of combat operations by the end of 2009.

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