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How a bill becomes a part of a war supplemental

I made some calls Monday afternoon to check on the status of Tom Harkin's effort to get $27 billion to help schools around the country avoid crippling layoffs. You'd think that would've been straightforward enough, but you (probably) don't report on Congress for a living.

There's no standalone vehicle with the $27 billion. Instead, Harkin was going to offer it as an amendment to the war supplemental. But though he had more than 50 senators on his side, he didn't have the necessary 60, so he didn't force the vote. Rather, it seemed that Rep. David Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was going to add the money into the House's version of the war supplemental. That hasn't happened yet, but if it does happen, and if that supplemental passes the House, then the hope is that the Senate will adopt Obey's education language when the two bills go to conference committee, and there will be 60 senators willing to vote "aye" on the final package. If it doesn't happen, well, there doesn't really seem to be a plan B for passing this bill.

The baroque process happens to be a reminder, though, of the many high-cost war supplementals Congress has passed. These were pricey bills to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and other priorities that got attached). They weren't built into the budget. Nothing was done to offset their spending. And all of them passed. Now that we're dealing with an economic disaster at home, there's no similar willingness to bend the rules and spend what's needed to get the job done. And the irony is that supplemental measures make more sense in this context: You're supposed to increase deficits during a recession, and this money would do a lot more good for the country than, say, a senseless war in Iraq.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 7, 2010; 4:36 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Comments

Hear, hear! When i thiknk of how much money was squandered in the Iraq and Afghan wars, how much the wily Iraqis and Afghans and contractors have been able to siphon off, all at the expense of ordinary Americans who are now hurting, I become angry and despairing. The gulf between the DC (and NY) aristos and the rest of the country is wider than ever in my lifetime, and the amount they care is smaller than I ever remember it being.

Posted by: Mimikatz | June 7, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

"this money would do a lot more good for the country than, say, a senseless war in Iraq."

What a random example. Just pulled that one out of thin air, did you?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 7, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

The irony is that the $27 billion goes to the states which mismanaged their own funds and are now insolvent: the states which were good stewards of their sovereign fiscs are left without bonus money. A goodly portion of the money will ultimately bail out the pension plans of teachers' unions, which is also darkly ironic.

On the bright side, the timing of the proposal is ideal for election discussion and every true Social-Democratic Party incumbent is strongly encouraged to vote for it.

Posted by: rmgregory | June 7, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

deficit spending for me (bush and the republicans) but not for thee....

Posted by: srw3 | June 7, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Oh, come now! Killing (and enraging) more brown people is worth any amount of money! But investing in our future? Pshaw!

Priorities, man!

Posted by: AZProgressive | June 7, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

--"You're supposed to increase deficits during a recession, and this money would do a lot more good for the country than, say, a senseless war in Iraq."--

I think Klein is up on the day for his quota of baseless assertions.

There is a school of thought that argues for deficit spending in recessions, of course, but it's only one school of thought, and there is good reason to suppose that it's an intellectually bereft school of thought, but Klein, of course has that Valley Girl certitude of his...

As to the back half of the avowal, it would be interesting (or not) to hear Klein explain why giving money to some unionized dimwits who can't manage to teach kids reading and writing is "a lot more good" than giving money to people who fight wars (for which, it could be argued, there was a "consensus", at the time.)

Naturally, I'm playing devils advocate to expose Klein's tiny mind. I don't think anyone should be forced to "pay" for a war he or she didn't want to pay for, just as no one should be forced to pay for incompetent teachers, or government schools. For those inclined to pursue the line, one could argue that Klein's incompetent push for expanded socialism practically necessitates large scale spending on programs that the average incompetent do-gooding socialist didn't foresee and isn't in favor of. It's what one gets for his and her stupidity.

Posted by: msoja | June 7, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who says socialism more than once should not be taken seriously. The Repukes only vote to spend money in bills that make war or cut taxes. This needs to be jammed down the public's throat so they understand who is at least trying to help them.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | June 8, 2010 5:22 AM | Report abuse

--"Anyone who says socialism more than once should not be taken seriously."--

Anyone could can't see the creeping socialism around them is in denial.

And whyzzat, anyway? Why should the all-but-socialists-in-name be given a pass just because you don't like the corresponding behavior of the "repukes"? It's like, "Oh, these socialists are totally reprehensible, but these other guys are hypocrites, so let's vote for totally reprehensible."

And what do you think the tea party thing is all about? Aren't those people "repukes" who are as fed up with the RINOs as you are?

Posted by: msoja | June 8, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Meh. The school year's about over, anyways.

Besides which, local superintendents will just do whatever the frell they want with the money anyway -- often that does not include re-hiring or not laying off teachers.

Posted by: ajw_93 | June 8, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

As a local school board member I can attest the $23 billion would trickle down to my district to the tune of nearly $20 million, enough to close the $19 million hole in next year's budget that declining state funding just opened up. We have already spent down our reserves and have been cutting in both administration and the classroom for the past 20 years. Laying off a couple hundred teachers will have a terrible impact not just on our local economy but on class size and thus our kids. We're now at the point of dismantling our core mission. The notion that our country can spare untold billions to bail out Wall St. but not to help schools get thru the economic crisis is maddening.

Posted by: ruthadkins | June 8, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

--"The notion that our country can spare untold billions to bail out Wall St. but not to help schools get thru the economic crisis is maddening."--

Exactly. Untold wasted billions are always the best justification for wasting untold billions more.

On the other hand, if education were truly so valuable to your local economy, etc., it wasn't too bright to go dumping it all into the one flimsy basket of government one-size-fits-all control. It's entirely foolish, from the start.

Is it a lesson you can learn? From here I'm a doubtener.

Posted by: msoja | June 8, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

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