CHN: Domestic Priorities Make it into Supplemental Bill

A supplemental appropriations bill that includes funding for both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a set of domestic priorities is winding its way through Congress.  On May 15 the House considered three amendments as components to the bill.  First it passed a package of domestic priorities that includes extending unemployment insurance (UI), expanding education benefits for veterans, and enacting moratoria on harmful Medicaid regulations.  The UI extension is for 13 weeks for individuals in any state who exhaust regular state benefits, with another 13 weeks for individuals in high-unemployment states.  In response to concerns from the conservative House “Blue Dogs,” the over $50 billion 10-year cost of the education benefits for veterans was offset with a 0.47 percent surtax on individuals earning more $500,000 and couples more than $1 million.  Next, the House agreed to war policy provisions including a goal for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.  Both amendments passed with no Republican support.  In a surprise move, the final amendment to provide over $160 billion in funding for the wars was defeated 141-149 with 132 Republicans voting “present” to protest their lack of involvement in the process.  See HNR article from 5/12/08 for more background:
The Senate had the option of adopting components of the bill passed by the House or substitute provisions it drafted.  The Senate decided to adopt a set of domestic priorities that included many of those in the House bill and more. Like the House, the Senate includes an expansion of veteran’s education benefits, additional weeks of UI, and a suspension on the Medicaid regulations.  Unlike the House, the Senate does not include an offset to pay for the veterans education benefit.  The Senate plan, however, includes other key initiatives that were not in the House that advocates consider critical for providing recession relief.  It adds $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in fiscal year 2008 and places a moratorium on a directive the Administration imposed last August that limits eligibility in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Other pieces added in the Senate include help for recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, international food assistance, emergency highway funding, grants for state and local law enforcement, and funds for fighting wildfires and NIH.  The Senate’s domestic package is $10 billion above what the President requested and $1 billion over the House’s plan.

On May 22 the Senate passed its own version of the bill.  Its domestic package passed surprisingly by a vote of 75-22 with 25 Republicans defying the President who opposes many of the provisions and joining all of the Democrats in supporting the measure. The Senate also voted to drop most of the war policy provisions adopted by the House, and it added $165 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2008 and 2009.

The supplemental spending bill will next go back to the House where it must decide how to address the version of the bill it has received from the Senate.  Work in the House will resume when Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess.  The President has threatened to veto any supplemental appropriations bill that funds domestic priorities he opposes.

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