- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

A bitter fight broke out among House Republicans yesterday as conservatives demanded Congress stick to the budget approved Thursday, and managed to strip $507 million out of a $136 billion military spending bill before the House approved it.

The raucous floor fight yesterday afternoon marks the start of a rough road ahead for the many remaining spending bills this election year, as Republican leaders try to dole out popular funding and conservatives demand fiscal discipline.

“The ink isn’t even dry on the budget and we’re already attempting to violate it,” complained Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who led the charge against the $507 million taken from a reserve fund and designated for military construction projects.

Conservatives said the projects weren’t war emergencies and they pointed to an administration statement yesterday stating the White House “opposes the use of war reserve funds for military construction projects.”

“After months of negotiating to build a disciplined federal budget, some of us feel that to turn around two days later and use a gimmick to exceed the budget is wrong,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

“This is about saying what we mean and meaning what we say.”

Appropriators, citing “urgent, war-related military construction projects requested by the president,” had taken the $507 million from a $50 billion reserve fund. The fund is for future emergency requests for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other Republicans angrily responded to their conservative colleagues, who used a parliamentary maneuver to strip the funding.

“You picked the wrong bill to have your earmark fight,” thundered Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican.

He noted that all of the projects stripped from the bill were already approved by Congress in a massive defense authorization bill that nearly everyone voted for a few weeks ago.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he snapped.

The $136 billion measure, $94.7 billion in discretionary money, to fund military health care, housing, veterans’ benefits and base changes was eventually approved yesterday, 395-0, with increases for veterans health care and $6.6 billion for military construction.

Democrats said Republicans insist on massive tax cuts for the rich, leaving less money for everything else.

“I urge my Republican colleagues to join Democrats in our commitment to our veterans and troops, and ensure that their needs are not sacrificed because of tax breaks given to the wealthiest Americans,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“The Republican Party is at war with itself, and today the men and women in the United States military unfortunately were caught in the crossfire,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Rep. James T. Walsh, the New York Republican who heads the military appropriations panel that crafted the spending bill, said the construction projects directly supported the military men and women who fight in Iraq.

“We saw those expenditures as integral to the war effort,” he said. He hopes to add the project money back during final negotiations with the Senate.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, tried to calm nerves and smooth out the situation, calling the fight a “process” fight about what pot of money to use, rather than a policy fight about funding the military.

“All of us in this House want to do everything we can for our troops,” he said, urging members to be patient.

Conservatives acknowledged it was tough to take a stand on the popular military spending bill yesterday, but they said Americans want fiscal discipline in Congress and they’ll keep fighting for it.

“House conservatives are adamant about sticking to this budget,” Mr. Pence said.

“Could be a long, hot summer on the floor of Congress,” he added.

Meanwhile, a House Appropriations subcommittee approved a $21.3 billion foreign operations spending bill that is $2.4 billion under what Mr. Bush requested.

It would fully fund several of his requests, but would provide $2 billion — $1 billion less than he requested — for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, designed to reward countries for commitment to democracy.

It also would provide $522 million for further stabilization of Iraq, $227 million less than the request. More Iraq stabilization money is part of the pending emergency spending bill.

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