To Earmarking Senators, Veto Seems to Spell Vote
Thursday, May 4, 2006
Senators keep stuffing new provisions into an emergency spending bill for Iraq and hurricane recovery, ignoring President Bush's veto threat to advance their priorities.
An amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), approved 53 to 46 yesterday, would add $289 million to compensate recipients of an experimental flu vaccine, in the event of an adverse reaction. By 51 to 45, senators added $1 million for water monitoring in Hawaii, which was hit by a torrential rainstorm. On Tuesday, the Senate tossed in nearly $1.7 billion in additional flood-control money for the New Orleans area, without offsetting it with cuts to other programs, as Bush had urged.
Despite repeated efforts, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and other fiscal conservatives failed to strip out pet projects, including $6 million in aid for Hawaiian sugar interests and up to $500 million for a Northrop Grumman Corp. shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., to compensate the company for hurricane-related losses that insurers have refused to pay.
At the bill's core is $72 billion in war-related funding and about $27 billion to aid Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. But with November midterm elections approaching, senators showed little restraint on items that would prove popular with constituents or important interest groups.
For example, the legislation includes $4 billion in aid to farmers and ranchers to offset rising natural gas costs and provide new relief from drought, floods and wildfires. It contains nearly $800 million in additional highway and transit funding and $2.3 billion to prepare for a possible flu pandemic.
In a speech yesterday, Bush reiterated an earlier pledge to veto the legislation if it tops $94.5 billion. The Senate bill -- which totaled $106.5 billion when it reached the floor last week -- now adds up to nearly $109 billion. Final passage is expected today.
"Congress is considering a piece of legislation that will test its commitment to spending restraint," Bush said in an address to the American Council of Engineering Companies. "I've requested a bill that would provide emergency funds for the war on terror and hurricane relief. Unfortunately, there are some here in Washington trying to load that bill up with unnecessary spending. This bill is for emergency spending, and it should be limited to emergency measures."
The presumption is that the extraneous provisions will get cut in a final conference committee with the House, which backed a $91.9 billion package. But so far, the Senate has found additional spending irresistible. "We are a coequal branch of government," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), author of many of the hurricane-related provisions, said in his defense of the Northrop Grumman money. "We do have a say in these issues. Sometimes we can help."
The long list of Senate earmarks, or special provisions, addressed a broad array of needs. "There are other emergencies that come up from time to time," Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said as he defended aid to help Hawaii recover from a torrential rainstorm. "There are acts of God that take place."
A second Kennedy measure approved yesterday would set aside $104 million in funding already in the bill to keep afloat nongovernmental organizations working in Iraq on democracy-building projects. The State Department opposed the effort and circulated a detailed memo among Senate offices in an effort to forestall it.
"The U.S. is pursuing a dynamic integrated approach that is adjusted according to conditions on the ground," the memo explained. Earmarking department funds to the outside groups "could impact the integrated program designed by our embassy in Baghdad, especially our initiative to build provincial reconstruction teams," small units designed to decentralize the reconstruction process, it said.
The Senate accepted the Kennedy measure by voice vote. If it survives the House-Senate conference, it will provide seven nongovernmental organizations with funding that Kennedy said would be vital to democracy building.
"The measure accepted today will provide them with the resources they need and makes clear our commitment to stand by these organizations that are working on the front lines in the struggle for democracy in Iraq every day," Kennedy said in a statement.
The Senate also approved by voice vote an amendment by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) putting the chamber on record as opposing permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq and U.S. control of the country's natural resources.
"I have no illusions that a single amendment will somehow change the dynamic of events on the ground," Biden said. "But I do believe that we have a duty to proclaim -- and proclaim regularly -- that we have no intention of either maintaining permanent American military bases in Iraq or controlling its oil."
Another Democrat, Sen. Robert Mendendez (N.J.), won voice-vote approval to add $60 million for peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, Sudan, increasing the total to $130 million. The money would be shifted from other diplomatic funds, including those for construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.