Intraparty Fights Pervade Agenda

Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:38pm

Democratic leaders appeared to clear the way Wednesday for passage of a $100 billion war supplemental, even as they worked furiously to repair internal rifts over health care and climate change legislation.

The war bill, which has swollen with items including a cash-for-clunkers incentive, will eliminate Senate language explicitly allowing President Barack Obama to keep photos of detainee abuse during the Bush administration confidential.

That language was included by the Senate and is backed by Obama and Republicans, but it has been a deal-breaker for House liberals like Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (Mass.).

Frank and other Democrats who opposed the war bill originally, have committed to voting for it in order to help carry a $108 billion package of loans to the International Monetary Fund, an Obama priority.

Assuming no Republican support, Democratic leaders need 18 of 51 anti-war Democrats to back the bill, a number that they appear likely to reach despite the continued opposition from leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

House Republican leaders had derided the IMF money as a “global bailout— and vowed to whip hard to defeat the supplemental with it included.

And even moderate House Republicans from auto industry states appeared unlikely to be won over by the inclusion of a cash-for-clunkers provision aimed at jump-starting the auto industry.

“That’s going to have no bearing on people’s votes on the— bill, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. “They’re not going to get hardly any Republican votes.—

The outcome of any Senate vote on the supplemental conference report remains uncertain, given that Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to not only filibuster the bill, but also block other Senate business if the supplemental did not include their language barring disclosure of the detainee abuse photos.

One senior Senate Democratic aide said Lieberman and Graham’s threat to hold up the supplemental indefinitely was unlikely to last and predicted that Defense Secretary Robert Gates would likely pressure the two defense hawks to relent so that funding for the wars wouldn’t run out.

The trickier problem is what delay tactics Graham and Lieberman might use to stymie Senate action on other bills. The senior Senate Democratic aide acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) might have to come up with a plan for passing the language on some other bill that would be able to pass the House, but this aide noted that Obama has the strongest hand in getting Graham and Lieberman to stand down.

Senate Democratic aides said the language to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was designed to satisfy the Obama administration’s need to transport terrorists for trial, as well as to ease, for the most part, Democrats’ fear of political repercussions from having detainees permanently housed in the United States.

The language would allow terrorists to be in the U.S. for trial only, which the senior Senate Democratic aide said would “give Obama some flexibility while also mollifying those that have NIMBY problems.—

But the supplemental has been largely a sideshow to the big push behind the scenes on health care, especially from the White House.

One House Democratic aide to a liberal lawmaker said left-leaning Members have been much more focused on health care reform and are generally happy with the direction negotiations on the issue are going.

“The debate is no longer whether there will be a public plan; it’s over what the public plan will look like,— the aide said.

Democratic House chairmen have dismissed a call from conservative Blue Dogs for a “trigger— option that would delay a government-sponsored health care plan, but there are still numerous fights going on behind the scenes — including on the makeup of the plan and how to pay for it.

Some Members fear that a Medicare-style plan that forces doctors to participate will provoke a revolt; others worry that a public plan may ultimately swallow up the entire marketplace.

But parochial concerns are also proving paramount, with individual lawmakers demanding answers on how it will affect their own districts. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a leading Blue Dog, said his district is plagued by a lack of doctors in part because of low reimbursement rates under government health programs.

“If that’s not addressed, I’m not voting for the bill,— he said. “We have huge amounts of details to put on the bones.—

But health care isn’t the only issue sparking Democratic intraparty battles.

The cap-and-trade bill limiting carbon emissions, largely negotiated behind closed doors in the House, has rural Democrats balking.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Wednesday that Democrats have reached an impasse on the climate change bill. He cast doubts that his committee would pass the bill by next week.

“I think it’s very doubtful that we can get anything done by then,— Peterson said.

Pelosi set a June 19 deadline for committee action on the bill, although she left open the possibility of an extension.

Peterson previously estimated that 45 Democrats would side with him in opposing the climate change measure if an agreement wasn’t reached. On Wednesday, he said that number has likely grown.

“The more people look at this, the more problems they’ve got. My list has grown since I’ve been looking at it,— Peterson said.

For his part, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that there are “very constructive— discussions taking place and that he still wants the bill on the floor before the July Fourth recess.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he expected to bring the war bill to the floor next week. The conference committee was scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. today.

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.