House, Senate Still Divided on Supplemental

Posted May 30, 2009 at 6:59am

House and Senate negotiators will start hashing out a nearly $100 billion war spending bill this week, with the two chambers billions of dollars apart when it comes to non-war add-ons.It will likely take at least another week to finish up work on the bill, given that Congress almost never moves bills like this in the first week back from a recess. Plus, there are dozens of details yet to be negotiated.The biggest area of contention is whether to loan the International Monetary Fund $100 billion — a loan that has a budget score of $5 billion from the Congressional Budget Office. That funding has been sought by President Barack Obama to buttress developing nations buffeted by the global financial crisis.The Senate included the funding in its $91.3 billion bill despite a spirited effort by conservative Republicans to nix it; the House did not include it in its $96.7 billion version. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) opposes attaching the IMF funding, and the war bill is one of the few in which Republican votes remain relevant because of a sizable bloc of Democrats who refuse to vote for war funding.“Mr. Boehner has made clear that he believes the war funding bill needs to be clean,— spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said.But it’s not clear if Republicans are willing to draw an absolute line in the sand and vote against the bill. Democrats could also try and get around them by setting up a separate vote on the IMF and other non-war funding, which could be carried by Democrats.House Democrats have been divided on the IMF question. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) suggested withholding the money as leverage to get the Germans to do more to fight the crisis, but House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) supports approving the money as soon as possible. But with the strong 64-30 vote in the Senate for the funding, the real issue appears to be House Republican opposition.House Democrats avoided earmarks in their bill, but the Senate bill contains earmarks, including hundreds of millions for ranking Republican appropriator Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). The House bill, however, includes billions for military aircraft that are not in the Senate bill.And both chambers are having to contend with an expensive offshoot of the bad economy: soaring enlistment rates that are outstripping the Pentagon’s budget. That is adding billions to the budget over the next year, and Democrats are trying to figure out how to account for the extra spending without needing another war supplemental or squeezing other programs next year.The House, meanwhile, also included billions more than the Senate in unrelated spending that had been scheduled for the regular spending bills next year. That is a typical maneuver employed by appropriators in both parties to bypass spending caps in the annual budget resolution.