U.S. war funding bill brims with unrelated extras
By Jeremy Pelofsky
A $100 billion bill to fund U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is rapidly accumulating extra items such as money for military aircraft the Pentagon doesn't want and possibly a scheme to jump-start sagging auto sales.
The cars and planes are not directly linked to the U.S. war effort. But they are typical of Congress' penchant for loading bills with unrelated spending in hopes the funds will sail through on the strength of the main legislation.
President Barack Obama originally sought $83.4 billion for the two wars and more foreign aid for countries like Pakistan.
But then he too sought more -- $4 billion extra to combat H1N1 swine flu and $5 billion to back credit lines to the International Monetary Fund, which is trying to help developing countries weather the global economic downturn.
The unrelated provisions have slowed the bill down, especially for the IMF because Republicans have argued the extra items should be vetted through the normal congressional process rather than jammed into an emergency spending bill.
Fights have also erupted about add-ons for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and an attempt to bar the release of photos of detainee abuse. While Republicans do not have the votes to block the bill, they have said they will oppose it and that forces Democrats to ensure most of their members back it.
"This supplemental was supposed to be about providing funding for our troops," one House Republican aide said. Instead, it has become a mish-mashed, taxpayer funded 'Christmas tree' bill that will propagate bad policies and unnecessary spending."
Some 51 anti-war House Democrats had opposed the bill but now are under pressure to switch to give Obama a victory. But a House Democratic leadership aide said Republicans will have to answer to constituents for opposing a war funding bill.
CASH FOR CLUNKERS
The House and Senate are working out differences between the two versions of the war funding bill they each approved last month and hope to pass a final, single version this week.
Congress was on the verge of giving Pakistan roughly $1 billion in the bill, but Obama last week sought another $200 million for Islamabad as it fights Taliban militants crossing its border from Afghanistan.
And lawmakers are also considering adding money for a plan to spur domestic car sales by offering up to $4,500 in vouchers for buyers to trade in their less fuel-efficient vehicles for ones that get better mileage, known as "cash for clunkers".
The White House declined to directly address adding in extra provisions, but said officials continue to work with lawmakers "about the core priorities in the legislation and hope that it can get to the president soon."
When the House and Senate originally approved their separate versions of the war bill, the White House praised lawmakers for not inserting their own pet projects in the legislation -- though some pet priorities were included.
Democratic Representative John Murtha, who heads the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, managed to get $3.1 billion for eight C-17 and 11 C-130 military transport planes included. However, that has been pared back by four C-130s.
The Pentagon did not request the aircraft but lawmakers want them to preserve jobs in their home states and Murtha disputes the military's contention that they are not needed.
A senior Democratic House aide said the requests for flu and Pakistan money were appropriate to include in the bill because they were emergency needs Obama cited. The aide also noted that Republicans in the past backed items like the IMF funds.
"This is a dangerous game Republicans are playing by jeopardizing the well-being of our soldiers to score political points," the aide said. "The supplemental will be passed, but they will have to answer for their actions if they oppose it."