Sunday, December 18, 2005

House Republican leaders plan to bring to the floor today a $453 billion defense spending bill laden with several add-ons, including a contentious provision to allow drilling in an Arctic reserve, which could threaten the bill’s chances of passing the Senate.

House and Senate Republicans reached an agreement yesterday on an aid package for Hurricane Katrina victims that goes beyond the $17 billion President Bush had proposed.

With the defense spending bill and another bill to fund most social services still unfinished, even though the fiscal year began Oct. 1, Republicans leaders in the House and Senate scrambled last night to pass a temporary funding bill. Without it, those programs would have shut down at midnight.

Congress is racing to adjourn for the year, but outstanding fights on tax and spending cuts and the add-on provisions still could complicate that.

Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said the defense spending bill would include a package to combat avian flu, more relief for hurricane victims, an across-the-board cut for discretionary spending other than for veterans and the contentious provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

For weeks, the ANWR provision has been holding up a separate budget bill that would trim billions of dollars from entitlement programs. Moving ANWR to the defense bill should help Republicans pass the spending cuts, but it would make the bill much more difficult to pass in the Senate, where top Democrats staunchly oppose the measure and are counting votes to try to block the defense bill if drilling is included.

A leading liberal advocacy group is optimistic that can happen.

“We are increasingly convinced that a filibuster can be sustained on the DOD [Department of Defense] appropriations bill if it is brought to the Senate floor with ANWR attached,” said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities.

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said the avian flu package that will be tacked onto the defense spending bill probably will be about $3.5 billion, while the hurricane relief provision will include about $17 billion for specific relief needs — taken from unused money already doled out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency — plus another $18 billion, which will be will be fully offset.

The Senate also hasn’t passed a $142.5 billion spending bill that funds the labor, health and education programs.

Rep. Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees that bill, said the Senate doesn’t have the votes to pass it, even though it is “a good bill given the amount of money we had.”

He was not optimistic that all of the spending bills could be completed in the next few days.

“Don’t bet the farm,” he said. “The question is the Senate.”

A defense reauthorization bills, yet to pass both chambers, is running into problems because House Republican leaders want to attach a provision requiring 527 groups to be regulated under campaign-finance law.

Meanwhile, negotiators were still crafting the underlying budget-savings bill late yesterday. House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, said the compromise number will be “close to” $45 billion. The House had wanted to cut $50 billion from entitlement programs, while the Senate-passed version cut $35 billion. The House gave in to Senate demands by agreeing not to cut food stamps, Mr. Nussle said.

The House yesterday also passed a bill to promote umbilical cord blood collection, which had been tied up in the Senate in a debate over stem-cell research. But the Senate cleared the bill Friday, and it now goes to the White House for President Bush’s signature.

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