Thursday, June 18, 2009

The budget and foreign policy, no easy time of it for the White House

By Carol Gee

Update: The supplemental bill is now in the Senate. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) made a point of order regarding the addition of the $1 billion+ for the "cash for clunkers" program. He lost that vote 60 to 36, by exactly the 2/3 majority required. There are times when 60 votes do matter.

The House approved the 2009 $105.9 billion supplemental war spending bill on Tuesday evening, but not with a big Democratic majority, Politico reports. The result was 226-202. Only 5 Republicans voted for it and 32 Democrats voted to oppose. House Minority Leader John Boehner claims that his "no" vote "protects the troops." The bill included $5 billion in IMF credits, $32.5 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $7.65 billion to prepare for the H1N1 flu expected this winter and $1 billion towards the new "cash for clunkers" program. Congress actually added to the President's original request, taking care of their local defense contractors. To quote Politico's conclusion:

The total defense spending is larger than Obama’s request and includes about $2.5 billion in new money to deal with personnel cost overruns in, especially, the Army and Army National Guard. Nearly $28.5 billion is provided for procurement, including billions added for the purchase of air transports and armored vehicles.

Eight Boeing C-17s would cost about $2.1 billion, and an additional $504 million would cover seven C-130s, manufactured by Lockheed. General Dynamics has a stake in $312.7 million for the purchase of Stryker armored vehicles for the Army — a $200 million increase over the administration’s request. And the bill adds $1.9 billion to the Pentagon’s requests for more heavily armored, mine-resistant MRAPs.

Total spending for State Department and foreign aid accounts is $9.7 billion; another $700 million is provided for food assistance overseas. Afghanistan and Pakistan are among the major recipients, including $225 million to help the Islamabad government deal with the refugee crisis triggered by recent fighting.

To an unusual degree, even routine foreign aid requests for Middle East countries such as Israel, Egypt and Jordan have been added to the mix. This is all part of a Democratic strategy to shift close to $2.5 billion from 2010 into 2009 and thereby leave more room under next year’s spending caps.

A wartime spending bill passed the House in mid-May but leadership lost 51 Democrats in the process. Anti-war House members opposed the President's new commitments in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This time Politico opines that "flu funds have been the cure for the war bill." In addition CQ Politics reported that "the White House cut a deal with Texas Democrats" who were holding back their votes in a dispute over the way that funds in the economic stimulus package are not being spent on public schools in the state. CQ explained that "the White House promised to use a future appropriations bill as a vehicle for language to block Texas from shifting the funds" to its "rainy day" general purpose fund.

Today in the U.S. House, ProPublica reports that there will be a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on civilian contract workers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. ProPublica is a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, who helped ABC News and the LA Times find out that AIG and others routinely denied claims by these injured civilians for medical care and disability benefits, under federal Workers Compensation. The Labor Department is supposed to oversee the program.

The 2009 Supplemental spending bill has been the most contentious issue between Congress and the President this year. Opposition by anti war liberals to the escalation of the war in Afghanistan has been steady and ever-present. Fiscally conservative Democrats are resistant to spending in somewhat the same way as Republicans, although they are certainly not as vocal. And Republicans seem to be dedicated to holding up their reputation as the "party of no," uncharacteristically in the national defense arena.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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