Friday, May 5, 2006

The Republican-controlled Senate continues to cram billions of dollars for non-emergency programs into the emergency supplemental-appropriations bill, despite the fact that it is Republicans who are in danger of marching over the electoral cliff in less than six months.

President Bush initially requested $92.2 billion in emergency spending, which was divided between military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan ($72.4 billion) and hurricane relief ($19.8 billion). The House version ($91.9 billion), which was passed in March, actually came in below the president’s request. The president later said he would accept an additional $2.3 billion for pandemic flu protection, bringing the White House total to $94.5. In early April, by a vote of 27-1, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill totaling $106.5 billion. Anything higher than $94.5 billion, the president warned on April 25, would elicit a veto.

The next day, in a bipartisan 72-26 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have limited its emergency-spending bill to $94.5 billion. The bipartisan big spenders in the Senate then proceeded to add billions more, ignoring a second veto threat issued Wednesday. “If they spend more than $92.2 billion plus pandemic flu emergency funds, I will veto this bill,” warned Mr. Bush, who has never vetoed a bill despite the fact that annual federal spending has increased nearly 50 percent (about $850 billion) during the five budgets he has overseen.

Earlier this week, the Senate passed its emergency-spending bill totaling $108.9 billion, nearly $15 billion above the president’s bottom line. The additional spending includes $4 billion for farmers, $1.1 billion for Gulf Coast fisheries, $1 billion in grants to states and Mississippi Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran’s infamous $700 million “Railroad to Nowhere” earmark to relocate Mississippi railroad tracks, which were only recently rebuilt at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars after Hurricane Katrina.

Before facing the president’s veto pen, the Senate bill must now be reconciled in conference committee with the far more responsible House version. House Majority Leader John Boehner drew a line in the sand following this week’s action by the Senate: “The House will not take up an emergency supplemental spending bill for Katrina and the war in Iraq that spends one dollar more than what the president asked for. Period.” That’s a very good start. For the record, 34 Republican senators voted for the $108.9 billion bill, including presidential aspirants George Allen, Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum; other Republicans included Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, and Robert Bennett, John Cornyn, James Inhofe and Pat Roberts.

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