Washington, D.C., Report
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The Senate returned to Washington the week of April 9 after its week-long recess, with Democratic leaders poised to challenge the White House on several hot-button issues, including the fiscal year 2007 emergency supplemental appropriations bill and embryonic stem cell research.
Across Capitol Hill, House lawmakers returned from their spring break the week of April 16, with House Democrats joining their Senate counterparts in preparing for a showdown with President Bush over the emergency spending measure, which would primarily fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president met April 18 with House and Senate congressional leaders to discuss the $120 billion-plus funding package; however, no agreement was reached as both sides stiffened their resolve.
If approved by Congress, the emergency supplemental is almost certain to draw a veto from the president, who strongly opposes the Iraq troop-withdrawal language contained in both the House and Senate versions of the legislation. It should be noted that the House language is binding, while the Senate bill establishes a non-binding goal for the pullout of U.S. troops.
President Bush also opposes funds that Congress included for a number of domestic programs. The White House has continued to press for a “clean” supplemental that only provides funds for the war effort overseas.
Among other items, the Senate emergency spending measure includes a provision that would reauthorize the Forest County Safety Net program for five years and fully fund the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program from fiscal years 2008-2012. The House, in contrast, would just extend the current forest county receipts program for one year.
House and Senate negotiators are expected to finalize the spending package the week of April 23, though that timeframe may very well slip. It is not clear how Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill would respond to an expected presidential veto.
In other funding news, both the House and Senate cleared in late March their respective budget resolutions for fiscal 2008. Negotiators from both chambers will now meet to iron out differences between the two competing versions. The budget resolution does not require approval by the president, but is a congressional spending blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year.
After a budget resolution is finalized, House and Senate appropriators will begin the long and arduous process of funding the various federal programs for fiscal 2008, such as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and the Community Development Block Grant. With limited resources at their disposal, appropriations leaders will be challenged to adequately fund many domestic discretionary programs.
In another key development, on April 19, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation (HR 1495) that would renew the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bill would authorize funding for over 700 water-related infrastructure projects, including funding for flood control and shoreline protection activities. Additionally, the legislation, which received strong bipartisan support, would require an independent peer review for projects costing more than $50 million, though the Army Corps of Engineers could exempt certain projects.
On the Senate side, the Environmental and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), approved a draft WRDA measure in late March. Leaders in both chambers are aiming to finish a bill by the end of the year.
It should be noted that it has been seven years since Congress passed a water resources bill, creating a backlog of literally hundreds of projects that are waiting to receive congressional authorization. Nevertheless, the Bush administration has expressed its opposition to the House WRDA bill, noting the measure’s steep price tag, which it estimates could exceed $15 billion. The White House has stopped short of threatening to veto the measure.
Finally, the Senate cleared a bill (S 5) April 11 that would overturn President Bush’s ban on federal research on new embryonic stem cell lines. The House approved its version of the legislation in January. President Bush is likely to veto the bill – as he did last year – when the Republican-controlled Congress presented him with a similar measure.