Monday, April 28, 2008

Budget and Appropriations

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hit a new record this week as he filed his 100th cloture petition for the 110th Congress. That means it was the 100th time he's had to seek 60 votes from his Democratic and Republican colleagues to bring up a piece of legislative business for consideration on the Senate floor. It is not a good record as it indicates the extremely partisan and fractious climate that currently dominates the Senate. In other words, it is hard to get any work done and keeps getting harder.

While the senators argued about whether or not they could begin debating the legislative matters before them, the House of Representatives made progress on an important Medicaid bill and continued to hold leadership meetings regarding consideration of an emergency supplemental spending bill. With Memorial Day looming, the date by which the military says it will run out of money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats struggled to decide how much more than the $108 billion the president requested they would actually appropriate. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced mid-week that the bill will likely provide a second infusion of war "bridge funding" of as much as $65 billion. The intent is to provide enough funding to give the next administration some breathing space regarding war policy.

There is also continuing debate among House Democrats about how much, if any, funding will be provided for domestic emergencies. The president has promised a veto if additional dollars are added, and a loud Republican chorus is repeating that threat. The items being considered include unemployment benefits, food stamps and some form of a second economic stimulus package. By Friday, the domestic pot of funding appeared to be shrinking as fears of a protracted fight with the White House, and one another, grew. The Senate, so far, has been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the Democrats in the House to resolve their disagreements.

Also at week's end, Budget Committee leaders in Congress sounded more optimistic that a budget resolution conference agreement might be ready within the next two weeks. The House's Blue Dog Coalition, now strong with 50 Democratic members, is finally ready to talk about a compromise on the reconciliation instructions that Senate Democrats had threatened to strip from the bill. A budget resolution or a "deeming resolution" will be needed soon if the Memorial Day Recess target date is to be met by the 12 subcommittees on appropriations. That is the date when all bills are to be written and, ideally, ready for floor action.

Either resolution would provide direction to appropriators on just how much money Congress will be willing to spend in FY 2009. Both the House- and Senate-passed budget resolutions top the president's recommended level by almost $25 billion. The hope among education advocates is for that number to be as high as possible, providing enough funding to reject the cuts and program eliminations at the Department of Education that were recommended by the administration.

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