Iraq Money Faces More Delays in the House
"My patience is growing thin," Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) growled today, and he wasn't referring to the typically glacial pace of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Instead, Byrd was looking askance across the Capitol at House Democratic leaders, who have been dragging their feet on one of the most important bills Congress will deal with this year.
House Democrats are struggling to move a supplemental spending bill that has grown to include new benefits for veterans and the unemployed in addition to more than $160 billion to fund military options in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Having taken the unusual step of bypassing the Appropriations Committee altogether, House Democratic leaders had originally planned to bring their version of the spending bill straight to the chamber floor today, despite strong opposition from Republicans. At the same time, the Senate Appropriations panel planned to markup its own supplemental measure today. That was the plan -- "was" being the operative word.
Instead, neither of those things is happening. First the House decided to punt consideration of its bill until next week, after complaints from conservative Blue Dog Democrats that an otherwise popular part of the package -- increased educational benefits for military veterans -- was not "paid for" with a corresponding spending cut or tax increase. The Blue Dogs fear that the veterans money would quickly become a new mandatory government program that Congress would have to fund year after year without any obvious way to cover the cost. And House Democratic leaders need the support of just about every member of their own party, given how angry the GOP is with the way the majority has handled the bill.
The House's decision to postpone the bill forced Senator Byrd Byrd (D-W.Va.) to grudgingly put off his panel's markup, though he warned in a statement: "I am putting my colleagues in both the House and Senate on notice that whether the House acts or not next week, the Senate Appropriations Committee will move forward with a mark-up of the Supplemental Appropriations bill."
So Democrats have bought themselves at least a few more days to put together a very difficult political puzzle. Their decision to add domestic items to the supplemental seems to have guaranteed a veto from President Bush, if the bill gets that far. Anti-war Democrats still want the chance to vote on language that would require the Iraq money to be spent only on troop withdrawal. The Blue Dogs have their problems with the veterans funding issue, and Republicans are unhappy with everything from the substance of the bill to the process of moving it through the system.
Will Democrats devise a way to reconcile all of those competing concerns by next Tuesday or Wednesday, and will they get a bill to Bush's desk before the Memorial Day recess? Seems like a tall order, but the majority isn't considering failure as an option.
"I am very confident that next week we will come to the floor with a bill that has the full consensus of the Democrats and hopefully can attract a large number of Republicans as well," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said today. "We will then send it to the Senate. The Senate will work its will, and it will probably come back to us, and we will send it to the President. And, yes, we intend to do that by Memorial Day break."
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