The House Wednesday passed a bill to keep the government running until mid-November, with both Democrats and Republicans determined to avoid a shutdown.
The bill, which passed 404-14, also provides funding to continue Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The stopgap funding bill is needed because the Oct. 1 start of the 2008 budget year is looming with none of the 12 spending bills funding government agencies and departments having been signed into law.
Senate Democrats have been slow to bring the 12 spending bills up for debate; neither have House-Senate negotiations started on the four bills that have passed both chambers. The House has passed all 12 and is frustrated by the Senate’s dawdling pace.
The situation is reminiscent of last year, when Democrats lambasted Republicans for their poor performance in completing Congress’ budget work. But the roles have been reversed.
“In the words of Yogi Berra: ’It’s deja vu all over again,”’ said Jerry Lewis of California, top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
The Senate is expected to pass the stopgap measure by the end of the week for Bush to sign it into law.
Veto threats loom
The administration has taken a hard line on Democrats’ attempts to add $23 billion for domestic programs to Bush’s $933 billion request for the approximately one-third of the federal budget funded by the yearly spending bills. Veto threats hang over nine of the 12 bills and Democrats are struggling for a strategy on how to deal with them.
Democrats say the increases — for myriad domestic programs such as education, law enforcement, grants to local governments and health research — are modest relative to the cost of the war in Iraq and Bush’s increases to the defense budget.
“The president would have the country believe that we ... are pouring money into the domestic budget,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. “I would suggest that restoring $16 billion in presidential cuts is mighty small potatoes compared to the $200 billion he wants us to spend in Iraq.”
The stopgap funding bill would fund the budgets of 15 Cabinet departments through Nov. 16, as well as food programs, an extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and various aviation-related taxes that fund Federal Aviation Administration operations.
Health care bill for kids passed
The House on Tuesday passed a measure extending and expanding the popular SCHIP program, which pays for medical care for children from low-income families, but Democrats fell short of mustering the two-thirds margin required to override a promised veto.
The measure also provides $5.2 billion to provide additional heavy armored vehicles that offer better protection to troops in Iraq from roadside bombs.
The measure also provides additional resources for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that lawmakers believe will provide enough to maintain the accelerated tempo in Iraq until Congress and Bush sort out his huge request for the war.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was set to request another $42 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee later Wednesday. That would bring Bush’s total request for war operations in Fiscal 2008 to nearly $190 billion, a record high.
The stopgap measure passed Wednesday assumes a funding level for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan of $70 billion for all of 2008, far less than what will be needed.
About $9 billion of that funding is designed be available through Nov. 16, but the administration has emergency authority to tap further into the $70 billion “bridge fund” if the larger request is delayed.