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Finding a Sweet Spot in the Supplemental

April 30, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

As soon as next week Congress will take up their last must-pass bill this session — a supplemental spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats are going to try to attach some of their remaining domestic priorities – unemployment insurance extension, increase in food stamps, veterans’ education benefits – to the bill and hope that President Bush accepts them in a package deal with the war money he has requested. But a crude outline of the Democratic leadership’s current plan for dealing with the bill was revealed today by a House aide, and it may make it easier for Republicans and conservative Democrats to keep the domestic spending out.

>A senior House aide said that the current plan is to hold three separate votes in the House: one for the war funding, one for domestic items, and one for a series of Iraq-related war policy provisions. These votes, which likely would all be called “amendments,” would then be joined together and sent to the Senate as a package.

The thinking, I believe, is that holding three separate votes will allow Democrats to place politically popular votes against the war money, for a withdrawal timeline, and for the domestic programs money. But a side effect may be that the 47 moderate-to-conservative Democrats that make up the Blue Dog coalition could keep the war supplemental from getting "loaded up like a Christmas tree” with domestic spending, as Mike Ross (D-AR), one of three Blue Dogs chairmen, recently warned against.

If all the parts of the supplemental were voted on at once, it would probably pass based on its a-little-something-for-everyone appeal. But Blue Dogs are good at sticking together and being effective when it comes to combating spending they oppose. It’s why they exist in the first place. If they stick together in opposing the domestic portion of the supplemental, they should have no problem defeating it with the help of House Republicans.

Republicans, who want to the supplemental to contain only war funds as President Bush has repeatedly insisted, understand that Blue Dogs are the key players to work with in the debate. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ($):

>House Republicans think they can siphon off some Blue Dogs’ votes in order to have a say in how the bill is crafted.
>If there is too much domestic spending on the bill, “Republicans aren’t going to vote for it,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip. And because anti-war Democrats are leaning against any bill that doesn’t tie funds to a timed withdrawal in Iraq, “you’ve got a significant number of Democrats who aren’t going to be there no matter what. The Blue Dogs become really critical in that debate just to get the bill out of the House for the first time.”
>Rep. Mike Pence added more pressure.
>“A ‘clean’ supplemental would be a unique opportunity for my colleagues in the Democratic Party’s conservative caucus,” the Indiana Republican said. “I haven’t yet seen a consistent willingness to hold their party accountable for fiscal issues.”

Pence’s last claim is debatable – Blue Dogs have helped to keep some budgeting within paygo rules. But, yes, this does appear to be a situation where Blue Dogs could have a real impact. If all 47 Blue Dogs vote “nay” on the domestic spending part of the supplemental, the votes just won’t be there for it to pass. By trying to ensure that every House Democrat can place politically-popular votes for themselves, Democrats could sacrifice their last best chance at getting their domestic policies enacted. And even if they do go back and pass them later in the year through the regular appropriations process as President Bush would prefer, it will delay their economically-stimulating effects by many months.

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