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Obey Predicts Late December Finish

Approps Train Wreck Awaits

It’s starting to look like this year’s appropriations train wreck won’t have a happy ending any time soon, with House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) pointing to sleigh bells in our future and no thaw in the frosty relations between top Democrats and the White House.

“I personally would be surprised if we’re out before Dec. 22,” Obey said at a Monday luncheon at the National Press Club. But Obey, asked about the possibility of a stopgap spending bill that would last until February when Democrats could tie domestic spending to the looming $200 billion war supplemental, said he much preferred to finish this year.

“We need to clear the deck and get on with next year’s business next year,” Obey said. “Whatever the decisions are going to be, we need to make those decisions.”

And as for why Congress hasn’t cut off funding for the war or passed prohibitions against an attack on Iran, Obey offered, “It’s not that easy.” Obey said he’s not aware of Congress ever cutting off funds for troops while boots were on the ground, including in Vietnam.

Obey, meanwhile, lamented that President Bush and Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle have been unwilling to negotiate on an overall spending number, which Obey argued was thwarting the will of the American people as Bush seeks to bolster his support from the right.

“It is clear, regardless of what the American people want, he feels he can govern as a minority government so long as he is supported by one-third of the American people and one-third plus one of the Congress,” Obey said.

“That leaves us with two choices: We can either sit by like potted plants and do nothing but meekly comply or we can try to make it as difficult as possible for the president to be irresponsible and artificially confrontational,” he said.

First up is the combined package on military construction, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, which Democrats see as the distillation of their priorities and the toughest combination for Republican lawmakers to vote against. The veterans’ bill passed with overwhelming majorities and House Republicans only barely mustered a veto-sustaining minority on the Labor-HHS bill.

That’s not to say that Democrats expect to prevail on an override, or even in the final endgame. But they want to make their points and go down swinging.

“With milcon-Labor-HHS, we will show that they don’t have the same priorities as the American people,” said a House Democratic leadership aide. “They will have to decide whether to vote with their constituents or rubber-stamp the president. Republicans aren’t making investments at home a priority, and they are all talk when it comes to taking care of our veterans,” the aide said.

Democrats, meanwhile, plan to convene a Defense spending conference as soon as today, having decided to separate it out from an original triple-combo package. Democrats still were considering whether and what else to put into the bill on Monday night, or whether to move forward with the straight bill.

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