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Supplemental Making Its Way Through Congress' Dark Corridor

March 13, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

While the House of Representatives is meeting for Sunshine Week to vote on some pro-transparency legislation, the war supplemental, a bill to provide funds for the Iraq war and a timeline for troop withdrawal, will be making its way through what is possibly the least transparent of all Congressional institutions: the committee process.

Committees make final adjustments to bills before they reach the House floor. They have the ability to alter a bill, add to it, or scrap it entirely. It is where the real legislating occurs. In fact, Woodrow Wilson once said “. . .it is not far from the truth to say that Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work.”

The way committees work remains shrouded in darkness. They operate almost completely behind the scenes. Cameras don’t record committee meetings, and the reports they releases to outline what went on in the meetings are nearly impossible to make sense of, unless you are an expert in the process, or were there in the first place when it happened.

So, we have to base our understanding of what is happening in a committee on rumors, quotes, and leaked details — information that is often of the least objective kind.

This supplemental bill came about through a presidential request for additional war funding, but rumors about other provisions and spending that Congress is planning to include in the bill have been circulating for over a month. Since the continuing resolution was passed in mid-February, short-changing several federally-funded programs, this supplemental bill has been looked to as a vehicle that could be used to enact additional appropriations. It has also been seen as an ideal place to include some form of binding legislation to limit the war in Iraq. Now, after months of inter-party Democratic deal making and compromising, the House Appropriations Committee (as a sort of microcosm of the whole debate leading up to it) will decide which compromises are best. The goal being to find the right balance of provisions in the bill to make it as satisfying as possible to the most amount of lawmakers, in order to bring it to passage.

Here are some of the rumors about the bill’s fate in the committee that have been circulating:

The Hill is reporting that Appropriations Committee member, Barbara Lee (D-CA), will possibly be offering “an amendment that would require U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of the year.”

In another article, the HIll (by way of a congressional source) mentions $40 million that will be appropriated as additional government development money to Liberia in the bill.

Subscription-only Congress Daily reports several rumored provisions and bits of spending in the bill:

> $74 million for peanut storage, spearheaded by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. The bill also would compensate producers for economic losses suffered as a result of safety recalls, including $25 million for spinach growers and handlers. There is also $5 million to compensate individuals and businesses “engaged in the business of breeding, rearing, or transporting live fish.”

>the bill…would order the Pentagon to conclude its investigation into the death of Army Specialist Pat Tillman no later than 30 days after enactment of the bill. The former NFL star was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

>There is also $100 million for citrus growers in the $6.4 billion Gulf Coast hurricane relief section. Congress has approved $1.1 billion for Florida citrus producers since the 2004 hurricanes. Another $3.7 billion is in the bill for other agricultural assistance, including Midwest states hit by weather-related disasters.

The Heritage Foundation has a list, from March 1st, that mentions several programs rumored to be expecting funds from the bill. Many of these haven’t received much attention in news about the bill recently. We’ll have to wait and see if they are included when the Appropriations Committee marks up the bill on Thursday.

Several sources are reporting that the total price tag of the bill will be $124.1 billion. That figure is up $25 billion from where guesses began a month ago. One way to interpret this growing figure is, that as support for the Iraq provision in the bill decreases, more and more additional spending is included in the bill in an attempt to regain support for it through providing funds for programs that lawmaker’s constituents can repay with votes when they are up for re-election.

Update:

MyDD got this list (“from a source close to the House Democratic caucus”) of Democrats who plan to vote against the supplemental because it sets a date for troop withdrawal.

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