In the House….This week, members furiously tangled over the war supplemental spending bill, which would fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through at least March 2009. While Speaker Pelosi had engineered a multi-vote series that would allow liberal Democrats to separately vote their consciences against the war funding, in a surprise Thursday move, the GOP–bridling over the Speaker’s strong-arm tactics–refused to help pass the war spending measure and abstained. The measure failed 141-149. Anti-war Democrats, stunned, burst into applause on the floor: according to Rep. Wu, it was “the first time that Congress has voted to defund a war.” In separate follow-up votes that day, the House also backed a Dec. 31, 2009 deadline for troop withdrawal and a 13-week extension in unemployment benefits, as well as a $52-billion expansion of veteran education benefits, paid for by a “patriot tax” on wealthy individuals. (The Senate is expected to reject the withdrawal deadline and veteran-benefits tax, and restore the war funding.) Also this week, the House voted to support the subsidy-laden, five-year farm bill by a veto-proof margin. On Tuesday, the House backed legislation directing Bush to temporarily stop filling the emergency oil reserve, and members also approved a resolution offering condolences to Burma’s citizens.
In the Senate….On Wednesday, a fairly boilerplate discussion over a bipartisan bill that would permit public safety workers collective bargaining rights exploded when the GOP offered a surprise amendment containing Sen. McCain’s much-criticized GI bill. Members defeated the move in a 55-42 vote, and a planned Friday vote on the bill dissolved over controversy on how to handle future amendments.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans defected en masse from the White House to join the House in an enthusiastically veto-proof approval of the farm bill. Later that night, the Senate cast a near-unanimous vote to scrap FCC-proposed rules that permit one company to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market. (The House has yet to consider the measure.) By an overwhelming 97-1 margin, the Senate also backed legislation to temporarily halt the filling of the national oil reserve–a bill Bush has opposed, but in the face of overwhelming pressure is expected to sign.
Also this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $193-billion war supplemental spending bill. The legislation fully funds Bush’s request, but further includes about $10 billion in domestic spending. (As Sen. Byrd said: “The president says that by adding money for the American people, we are holding American troops hostage. Horse-blank.”) The House Armed Services Committee followed its Senate counterpart and approved a bill to increase troop pay by 3.9%.
On Wednesday, following a three-year battle, the administration at last agreed to list the polar bear as “threatened with extinction,” but was quick to qualify that statement, reiterating that the move wouldn’t influence global warming or energy policy.
Meanwhile this week in a speech hosted by the Heritage Foundation, Defense Secretary Gates lambasted the military’s tendency to focus on expensive, yet-to-be-developed weaponry at the expense of meeting the war-fighting needs of troops on the ground now. He further stressed the need to provide for veterans when they return home, and not focus exclusively on funding weapons that might be needed in future wars. “I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called Next-War-itis,” Gates told the crowd.