Congress spent last week tying itself up in knots once again in its ongoing effort to adopt an emergency supplemental spending bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After delaying action the previous week, the House finally debated a three-part proposal on Thursday afternoon, while the Senate proceeded to a full Appropriations Committee mark-up of the bill.
In the House, the Democratic leadership confidently presented their plan for three separate votes: a vote on the spending for the war, a vote on new GI education benefits as well as unemployment benefit extensions, and a vote on non-binding policy proposals to bring the troops home. In total, the cost of the supplemental matched the president's request. It was anticipated that the first proposal would pass with significant Republican support while proposals two and three would sneak by with modest Democratic majorities. That was not the case. Disgruntled Republican appropriators, conservative members of the Republican Study Committee and anti-war Democrats unwittingly joined forces to defeat the $183 billion measure. With 132 Republicans voting present, the legislation failed to pass. Amendments two and three went as planned, narrowly making it to the finish line. Amendment number two had a millionaire's tax offset that satisfied conservative Democrats who had complained about yet another violation of pay-go rules. Not surprisingly, the president immediately announced he would veto the bill. Lacking any funding for the troops it is safe to assume he thought it was "too small."
In the Senate, Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Appropriations Committee chairman, gaveled his committee to order to consider a Senate supplemental bill that provides the necessary funding for the troops but adds another $9.3 billion in so-called emergency domestic spending. By the time the mark-up came to an end, another $1.5 billion was added to the measure, guaranteeing a contentious debate on the Senate floor this week. This too got the expected veto threat from the president. The reason this time - "too big."
In spite of these surprises and delays, there was progress on other fronts. Conferees were appointed to meet this week in hopes of adopting a Budget Resolution for FY 2009. This will allow appropriators to get to work on spending bills for all government agencies. It is rumored that the final agreement will contain approximately $23 billion more than the president requested when he sent a budget proposal to the Congress back in February. Progress was also made on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Portions of a conference report discussion draft were in circulation by week's end, perpetuating the continued hope that would-be conferees can meet in time to adopt a new law prior to the Memorial Day recess that begins Friday.