Friday, May 16, 2008

Senate Panel Passes $193 Billion War Supplemental Bill

Senate Panel Passes $193 Billion War Supplemental Bill

Defying a White House veto threat, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $193 billion war supplemental spending bill containing about $10 billion in domestic spending not sought by President Bush.

Just before the measure cleared on a voice vote, Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd mocked Bush's stance on the legislation.

"The president says that by adding money for the American people, we are holding American troops hostage. Horse-blank," Byrd declared. He charged that the president opposes funding to boost the economy, but "when it comes to Iraq, the president wants the dollars to flow, flow, flow."

Republicans put up no resistance to the legislation, although Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran warned that loading it up with domestic spending would only "delay resources" for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a voice vote, the panel approved an amendment from Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, directing the Defense Department to use $3 million in approved funding to complete a study on how the troops would eventually be redeployed from Iraq. "None of us know how to get our troops out in an orderly manner," he said.

On other issues, the committee unanimously approved an amendment by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to delay for a year the recent administration decision to tighten income eligibility standards for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and voted 17-12 to clear an amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to authorize a five-year emergency visa program for foreign agricultural workers. Supporters of the measure said it was needed to prevent a harvesting disaster caused by recent immigration crackdowns.

"It is a reality that oranges are rotting on trees in Florida," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Byrd opposed the amendment. Although temporary, the program "is still an amnesty," he said.

In another immigration-related vote, the committee approved 23-6 an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to extend a program allowing temporary workers, such as those employed in seafood processing centers, to re-enter the country without being subject to the cap imposed on H2B visas. "If you like Maryland crabs, vote for this amendment," she said.

After a heated debate, the committee rejected, 15-14, an amendment by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., to overturn a recently approved two-and-a-half-year moratorium on the issuance of Interior Department rules for oil shale leases in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Led by Feinstein, Democrats argued the moratorium should continue until the department assesses the environmental impact of oil shale mining.

Republicans accused opponents of the amendment of thwarting an initiative needed to end the country's dependence on foreign oil and reduce gas prices. "We are for American energy," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

The fate of the amendment was sealed when Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., announced that, although she would support such a measure on the floor, she had agreed to oppose the amendment in committee at the behest of Democratic colleagues.

The overall bill was reported in three parts, or amendments, with the first providing $168.9 billion for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost $66 billion would be for FY09.

The second amendment contained politically charged war policy provisions mandating rest times for the troops equal to their deployments and compelling the Iraqi government to pay for any nonemergency reconstruction project over $2 million, to subsidize the U.S. military fuel costs with its oil revenues, and pay the stipends of Sunni tribesman cooperating with coalition forces in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The policy section contained a nonbinding "sense of Congress" language calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by June 2009, and a provision requiring the administration to get Senate approval of any long-term military cooperation agreements with Iraq.

The third amendment contained funding for domestic programs, including a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and an expansion of veterans' education assistance for veterans who served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The cost of the veterans' plan has been estimated at $52 billion over 10 years.

The plan would extend GI bill eligibility to activated reservists and calls for the government to match dollar for dollar any voluntary financial aid offered by schools whose tuition exceed the maximum VA education benefit payment. Veterans would be entitled to a monthly housing stipend.

The section contains specific allocations of $10.4 billion for recovery from 2005's hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- $4.6 billion more than sought by the Bush administration -- and $1.245 billion in international food aid, $500 million above the White House's request.

The bill also calls for additional spending of $1.2 billion in long-term development funding for National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other scientific research agencies, $490 million in local law enforcement assistance, $451 million for highway construction and repair, $400 million for rural schools, $275 million for food and drug safety programs, and $437 million for the construction of veterans' trauma centers.

by Terry Kivlan

Fri. May 16, 2008

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: