Washington, D.C., Report
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There was a flurry of legislative activity on Capitol Hill the week of May 14, with lawmakers focusing much of their attention on completing a fiscal year 2007 emergency supplemental spending measure to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Congress approved a war spending bill (HR 1591) in late April, President Bush vetoed the legislation due to his objections over the bill’s troop withdrawal language. Congressional leaders have committed to finishing a revised version of the supplemental spending bill before leaving for their Memorial Day recess, which is set to begin May 25.
Last week, House Democratic leaders successfully marshaled two revised fiscal year 2007 emergency spending packages through the lower chamber. The first bill (HR 2206) would provide $42.8 billion in funding for overseas military operations, an increase in the minimum wage, and funding for small business tax incentives. Additionally, the bill would provide $52.8 billion in “fenced off” war funding, which would be available pending a report from the White House on the progress made in Iraq.
The measure also includes a one-year moratorium on a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposal that would shift $5 billion in Medicaid administrative costs to state and county governments over the next five years.
The second bill (HR 2207) would provide $3.5 billion for several key domestic spending items, including funds for a one-year extension of the Forest County Payments program. The legislation also would provide funding for agriculture disaster relief and wildfire suppression.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate approved May 17 a “placeholder” fiscal 2007 supplemental spending bill. The legislation, which passed the upper chamber on a voice vote, would provide no money; instead, the measure expresses the sense of the Senate that Congress should not undermine the safety of U.S. troops overseas.
With both chambers approving their respective spending bills, the stage is now set for a House-Senate conference committee, where lawmakers will be attempting to produce a final package that is acceptable to the White House. Although the upper chamber’s bill does not contain any legislative language, champions of a long-term reauthorization of the Forest County Payments program (which was included in the Senate’s initial emergency spending legislation) are continuing to push for inclusion of the multi-year deal in the final spending measure that is sent to President Bush.
In other news, both the House and Senate approved May 17 a $2.965 trillion budget resolution (S Con Res 21) for fiscal year 2008. The non-binding budget resolution, which does not require the president’s signature, sets the overall tax and spending targets for the fiscal year that begins October 1.
The budget blueprint assumes roughly $2.965 trillion in spending authority and approximately $2.685 trillion in federal revenues. Included in the budget baseline is about $954.1 billion in discretionary outlays, although that amount would likely increase by several billion dollars once advance appropriations and potential upward adjustments for some policy initiatives are included.
As expected, the budget resolution allows for increased spending on several Democratic priorities, such as veterans’ health care, education, and children’s health care, including $50 billion in budget authority for a five-year reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The resolution also includes a Sense of the Congress provision that notes that additional legislative action is needed to ensure that states have the necessary resources to collect all child support that is owed to families and to allow them to pass 100% of support on to families without financial penalty.
It should be noted that the House and Senate action on the budget blueprint sets Congress on a potential collision course with the White House. Although it is still early in the fiscal year 2008 appropriations process, President Bush has indicated that he will veto spending bills if they total more than the $933 billion that was proposed under the administration’s budget.
On a related matter, and with next fiscal year’s budget cap now officially set, the House Appropriations Committee wasted little time in scheduling the first markup of the fiscal year 2008 spending cycle. At press time, the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee was set to consider a spending package that would provide slightly more homeland security funding than the $34.8 billion Congress allocated in fiscal 2007 and the $34.5 billion in discretionary spending the Bush administration requested for fiscal year 2008.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Representative David Price (D-NC), has indicated his intention to provide additional spending for local first responders. Price and other key Democrats have been critical of the Bush administration for proposing to cut the Homeland Security Department’s first-responder programs by $800 million.
In another significant development,the Senate overwhelmingly approved May 16 legislation (HR 1495) that would reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bill would provide $14 billion for hundreds of projects involving coastal restoration, environmental infrastructure, and flood control works.
The legislation now moves to a conference with the House, which passed its own WRDA renewal bill in mid April. For his part, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) – the likely chairman of the WRDA conference committee – noted that he expects bicameral negotiations on a final bill to last “no more than a couple of hours.”
In other news, CSAC recently was joined by 14 other state associations of counties in sending a letter to Congress urging that the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) be funded at the fully authorized level of $950 million in fiscal year 2008. The program, which is currently funded at roughly $400 million nationwide, reimburses states and localities for a very small portion of the costs that jurisdictions incur as a result of incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens.
On a related matter, the fiscal year 2008 budget resolution includes a provision that expresses “the Sense of the Congress that SCAAP funding for fiscal year 2008 should be consistent with the goal of achieving the program’s fully authorized level.”
Finally, on the immigration front, a bipartisan group of senators recently struck a deal on a comprehensive plan for immigration reform. Led by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a number of Democratic and Republican senators have endorsed a bill that would legalize the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, while at the same time limiting the importance of family ties in determining who can gain entrance into the country.
In the wake of the recent announcement on the immigration deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has scheduled a key procedural vote for May 21. At that time, a vote on limiting debate on a motion to proceed to a new version of last year’s Senate bill (S 1348) will occur, with the new bipartisan package available to be offered as a substitute. A total of at least sixty votes will be needed to proceed.