Now that the House and the Senate have passed emergency appropriations bills to fund the war in Iraq, the next step is for members of the House and Senate to come up with a compromise bill. It is hoped a compromise bill can be agreed upon and passed during the week of April 16. Then it goes to President Bush, who has sworn loudly and stridently that he will veto it.
Let’s assume the compromise bill goes to Bush in April, and he vetoes it. There aren’t enough Dems to override the veto. I’ve heard suggestions that Congress should then pass whatever bill Bush wants, which sends a signal that this is Bush’s War. He and the Republicans own it, and whatever happens is entirely their doing. However, this also might send the signal that the Dems are caving in once again, mightn’t it?
Others want to keep sending Bush bills with conditions, perhaps passing monthlong spending bills (Rep. Murtha’s suggestion) in the meantime so Bush can’t say Congress isn’t funding the troops. Well, he’ll say it anyway, but who’s listening to the little creep at this point?
The talking point du jour from the Right seems to be that “pork” in the supplement bill somehow harms the troops. Exactly why the domestic spending items in the bill takes anything away from the troops is not clear, since both House and Senate bills provide every penny Bush asked for to fund his war. The House bill provides more money than Bush asked for, actually. The Republicans appear to claiming that the domestic items are monies taken away from the Pentagon’s request, but that’s not so.
Yes, pork is pork. An op ed in today’s New York Times by Thomas Schatz, “Pork Goes to War,” provides a chart listing the porcine items in the House and Senate supplement bills. He notes that emergency supplement bills are called “Christmas trees” because, as they are exempt from budget rules, they tend to get decorated with “ornaments.”
(Schatz, btw, is the President of Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit that appears to be a corporate front group. CAGW has campaigned on behalf of the tobacco industry and in favor of Microsoft and against open source software, for example.)
On the other hand, some senators yesterday tried to make the point that a congressional emergency supplement bill can rightfully contain funds for anything that Congress thinks is an emergency. One cannot tell from Mr. Schatz’s chart if the items are true emergencies or not. Yes, $20 million in the Senate bill for “Mormon cricket eradication” does sound suspicious, but Nevada may be suffering a deadly plague of Mormon crickets, for all I know.
Schatz’s chart does clear up the Great Spinach Mystery. Yesterday a Republican senator insisted on taking the time for a roll call vote on stripping all mention of spinach out of the Senate Bill. Sen. Patty Murray explained, somewhat tensely, that there was no spinach in the bill, so such a vote wouldn’t change anything. Sen. Harry Reid asked if they could skip the roll call if the Dems all promised to vote for the amendment. The Republican wouldn’t budge, and a roll call was taken to make the world safe from spinach. I see now that the House bill contains $25 million for spinach growers in California. (I suspect that has something to do with the e coli bacteria found in some packaged spinach last September. )
Back to what to do about the veto — I’d consider sending Bush the bill he wants with a great big warning that Congress will accept no more emergency appropriations requests for Iraq. If you want money for Iraq, Mr. President, from now on you have to go through regular appropriations procedures. After four years the dadblamed war ain’t an “emergency.”
Linda Bilmes explained in Nieman Watchdog last September:
The money already spent, in cash terms, is more than $400 billion. This has been approved through a series of â€œemergency supplementalâ€ requests by the Administration. This is a technical but really important point: Normally, the Defense Department requests money through the traditional channels, which means that it gets vetted and analyzed by the Office of Management and Budget and the congressional committees. But for Iraq, there has been what I call an â€œaccounting conspiracyâ€ — all the money has been requested through 13 emergency supplemental requests which receive minimal scrutiny. This has resulted in a lot of fraud, corruption, overpayments to contractors like Halliburton, etc.
The legal purpose of the emergency supplemental is supposed to be an actual unexpected emergency, like Hurricane Katrina. By contrast, the administration has known for the past 3 years about its approximate financial needs for Iraq. It just chooses to fund the war this way so it does not need to request â€“ nor does Congress need to vote â€“ on the huge sums involved. Instead, Congress can vote on bite-sized chunks that donâ€™t attract much attention.
I think it’s way past time for Congress to make a big bleeping deal out of the “emergency” appropriation funding. Bush wants to talk pork? Let’s talk about Bush’s piss-poor money management. He fancies himself the “CEO President”; a real CEO who played budget games like that would face some pretty wrathful shareholders, not to mention the SEC if Bush were using accounting tricks to cover it up.