House Maneuvers on Supplemental

Posted June 10, 2008 at 6:36pm

House Democrats are likely to delay a vote on a $250 billion war-spending bill at least another week as they continue negotiations with the White House and see whether an unemployment insurance bill can garner a veto-proof majority quickly in both chambers.

If the $16 billion unemployment bill can pass both chambers overwhelmingly, Democrats could strip it from the supplemental and remove a sticking point with the administration, which has repeatedly threatened to veto the bill over unemployment benefits it considers too broad, along with other domestic spending.

Republicans privately conceded that the unemployment bill would get many GOP votes but said that helps give their Members cover politically because they will be free to vote yes.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have all but given up efforts to bring Blue Dogs along on a bill without offsets. Instead, negotiations are under way that could end up with an even more robust GI package because Bush has been pushing for a $16 billion provision allowing soldiers to transfer the education benefits to family members.

“I don’t think it’s moving this week,” House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said on Tuesday.

House and Senate negotiators are “really stuck” on language relating to Bush administration Medicaid rules that critics claim would shift costs to state governments. Lawmakers have pushed for adding a provision to the war bill to delay all seven Medicaid rules from being implemented.

There was “a little bit of talk” about taking out three of the rules as part of a compromise, but “many of us were insisting on keeping all seven,” Slaughter said.

Another sticking point continues to be how to pay for an expansive veterans’ benefits program and how to craft the 10-year, $52 billion provision with enough votes to pass in both chambers, the Rules chairwoman said.

The Blue Dog opposition to violating pay-as-you-go budget rules appeared likely to save the GOP from an awkward vote on a GI package that has been nominally opposed by President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). A bill paid for by a tax increase is a nonstarter with Republicans and certain veto bait, and Democrats are intent on finishing the war bill now so that they can move on to other business.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said there was no doubt the House could pass a war bill but didn’t want to simply require another back-and-forth with the Senate.

“We want to pass a supplemental the White House can sign,” Hoyer said.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) confirmed the two sides were talking. He said he was less optimistic than he was last week that there would be a quick resolution.

Blunt said Republicans could support a targeted unemployment measure that affects states with high jobless rates. He opposes the Democratic effort to extend unemployment benefits nationwide, arguing that approach could discourage people from seeking new jobs.

And a House Republican aide said the Democrats should be taken to task for waiting until weeks after Memorial Day to start negotiating with Republicans, as the Pentagon is on the verge of sending out furlough notices.

Democrats also came under fire for denying some internal transfer authority that the Pentagon has requested in lieu of the supplemental, but Democrats said the Pentagon will not be running out of money anytime soon.

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.