VOL. 124 | NO. 118 | Thursday, June 18, 2009
War-Funding Bill May Face Difficulty in Senate
JIM ABRAMS | Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that this is the last time Congress will go through the ordeal of passing an off-the-books, expensive bill to fund two wars. It may also be one of the more difficult.
The House, with almost no Republican support, on Tuesday barely approved a $106 billion emergency spending measure that includes $80 billion to sustain military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through this budget year ending Sept. 30.
Republicans supported the war funds but objected to other parts of the bill, particularly $5 billion to open up a U.S. line of credit for an International Monetary Fund loan program for poorer countries hit by the world recession.
The war spending bill sailed through the Senate on a 86-3 vote last month, but passage of the House-Senate compromise worked out last week could be more of a challenge.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. is expected to raise a point of order against a provision inserted in the compromise providing $1 billion for a "cash for clunkers" program that gives consumers government rebates when they trade in old vehicles for more fuel efficient models. It takes 60 votes in the Senate to waive a point of order.
Another possible obstacle was removed Wednesday when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he would no longer block action on the bill. Graham was upset that the final version removed a ban, backed by Graham and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., on releasing photos depicting U.S. troops abusing detainees.
But he said he had received promises that he would get a vote on his bill banning release of the photos before the issue goes to court next month and had received a pledge from the White House that the photos would be declared classified or otherwise not see the light of day. "Now I think we have a game plan that works," he said.
Reid, citing the lack of Republican support in the House, said: "It'll be interesting to see what happens here. Are my Republican colleagues going to join with us to fund the troops? I hope so."
He also said this would be "the last time we'll have to do this because President Obama is honest with his budgeting."
Every year since the Sept. 11 attacks Congress has passed emergency spending bills to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and enhance security programs. Because these bills are off-budget – not included in annual budget considerations – they are not paid for and add to the national debt. If the current bill is enacted, the total spending for these "supplementals" since 2001 will approach $1 trillion, with about 70 percent going to Iraq.
Obama, who is seeking to wind down military operations in Iraq while bolstering military forces in Afghanistan, has pledged to fund all war operations through the regular defense budget. He has asked for $130 billion in the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
The spending bill also includes $10.4 billion for economic and other assistance to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East and other countries, and $7.7 billion for pandemic flu preparations. It has $534 million for some 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since Sept. 11, 2001. They will receive $500 for every month they were held under stop-loss orders.
The House on Tuesday brought to the floor the first of 12 appropriations, or spending, bills that it must pass to run the federal government during the 2010 fiscal year. It immediately ran into trouble.
Appropriations bill are traditionally debated under a process that gives the minority free rein to offer amendments. But after Republicans proposed more than 100 amendments and would not agree to time limits on debate on a $64.4 billion measure funding law enforcement, science and census programs, Democrats temporarily pulled the bill so they could tighten the amendment procedure.
The war funding bill is H.R. 2346.
The appropriations bill is H.R. 2847.
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