Republicans Won't Budge on Omnibus Bill

The tug of war over federal spending went another round yesterday as Democrats fought to pass an inflated spending bill full of questionable policy and earmarks. The fight — in which Democrats are trying to whittle enough Republicans away from the minority’s opposition — is made much tougher by two facts.  First, the Christmas recess is fast approaching and second, President Bush’s threatened veto which the Dems know they won’t be able to override. 

The bill, down from $22 to $11 billion more than the President’s $933 billion bottom line, would eventually contains essential funding for U.S. troops in Iraq — but only as an added appropriation.  Republicans, many who’ve worked hard to regain a fiscally responsible reputation this year, refuse to trade off irresponsible spending for troop finances.

In an interview last week with HUMAN EVENTS, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said most Republicans hoped to fund the troops and maintain last year’s spending level. DeMint said the President would not let the Democrats “use the troops as hostage to break the budget on this.”

In a conference call yesterday, RSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) chided Democrats for failing to see the priority of troop funding.

“It is disingenuous to say we’re going to fund the government for a year…but we’re not going to take care of our troops,” he said.

DeMint said after talking with “key White House staff” he was sure the President wouldn’t budge from his number. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) yesterday proposed stripping away every earmark from the bill in order to meet the President’s number. However, both Democrats and some Republican members seem unlikely to accept this pitch.

Both Republicans and Democrats have too many earmarks and Obey — highly partisan —  is known for putting unrealistic options on the table just to embarrass Republicans. Republican Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) called Obey’s proposal an “idle threat” but even if such a bill did materialize, it would almost certainly still contain policy unacceptable to Republicans.

“We don’t want anyone to get the message that we would accept any bad policy just because somehow we got to the president’s number,” responded House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), who participated in the conference call.

“I hope that…friends who may have been disappointed with us at the end of 2006…are able to see that Republicans got that message…and we are more than willing to hold the line on spending,” Blunt said.

Hensarling noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the original bill containing $22 billion more than the President’s budget number was not that much more in comparison to the whole of end of the year spending (as if $22 billion were a trivial amount). Her attitude reflects that of many Democrats who support tax increases and oppose the war more than they value keeping soldiers’ adequately prepared.

“They may need President’s help to spend money but they don’t need the president’s help not to spend money….,” said Hensarling, adding Democrats simply “don’t want to that responsibility” of providing for the troops.

Closing in on the end of the year, Democrats may be forced to consider a new proposal by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which would allow lawmakers to keep earmarks but also allocate $70 billion for Iraq and across the board cut of around 1 percent for domestic appropriations bills.

McConnell, whose own earmarks are more than noticeable, said “This is a reasonable and responsible path forward to completing our work in a bipartisan manner that achieves the twin goals of providing for our troops in the field and protecting the taxpayer’s wallet.”

If Democrats do not renegotiate a reasonable bill, funding for 2008 will likely come from a continuing resolution adjusted to inflation.

“…Hopefully people will come to their senses and want to go home for Christmas…just do a clean CR and come back and talk about it next year,” said DeMint.

Hensarling agreed that a continuing resolution was a “far superior” method to deal with funding challenges now, so close to the end of the year when lawmakers cannot possibly put in the necessary time to digest a 3,000-page report and debate appropriations responsibly.

According to reports and one highly placed Pentagon source, if a bill is not passed by Wednesday of next week, tens of thousands of Defense Department employees will receive layoff notices commencing on Friday, December 21. Current war funding is pulled from the Pentagon’s regular budget but this is causing a massive strain and Democrats will likely be forced to accept federal troop funding in Iraq in order to get any bill passed on the budget.

“We are going to fight those fights…[and] Democrats in majority in the House and Senate have reached well beyond where the American people want to be,” said Blunt. “It has helped to define the difference between us and them…shows how important this fight is.”